Students from around the county form virtual choir
Social distancing and closed schools brought on by COVID-19 meant that the 70 young Addison County singers who contributed to a new video recording of the Vermont state song this spring did not have the luxury of rehearsing together in the same room. Nor did they experience the magic of dressing up and gathering in the wings, filing onstage, climbing the risers, and taking one last breath before raising their voices in song.
Still, as each singer worked alone at home to record their audio and video contributions to “These Green Mountains,” they trusted that the others would be there when the time came, that the weaving and balancing and layering would bring them together and make them whole.
“There is a power in the coming together of voices,” said Middlebury Union High School senior Ali Seaton, one of the song’s soloists. “This is true of choruses in general, but I think it also translates into life right now.”
This particular coming together was made possible by the three choral directors at Addison County’s union high schools — Liz LeBeau at Middlebury, Megan LaRose at Mount Abraham and Cailin O’Hara at Vergennes. “In the past we have collaborated on a master choral works concert and performed together as one ensemble,” LeBeau said. “We had hoped to make that happen again this year (but because of the pandemic) it did not.”
Despite being separated, the trio of teachers were determined to move forward somehow, so they decided to create the Addison County Virtual Choir. “The students were excited to have a way to express themselves during this time and liked the idea of creating a positive lasting memory,” LeBeau said.
The choral directors chose to record “These Green Mountains” based on the singers they had, the level of difficulty and the beauty of the piece, she added. “During this time we all truly feel lucky to live in Vermont and this song emulates our feelings about the Green Mountain State.”
Every step of the project was intended to be educational, LaRose explained. “We learned about the history of the Vermont State Song first (as well as the state seal, and what other state songs are), discussed singing virtually together in a live setting, and taught from afar how to use the recording software that was so important to the final sound. In the end, we wanted to capture this important moment in time using a mode which is so important and powerful to people — music.”
For many students, the project involved a bit of a learning curve. Because she is used to singing with a whole group, Seaton, who lives in Weybridge, found the recording “tricky.” “I did lots of takes in my bedroom with my MacBook, with the piano accompaniment playing through my headphones,” she said.
Vergennes senior Addie Brooks also listened while singing. “I sang my part with (a recording of) Ms. LaRose singing in my earbuds,” she said.
Their fellow soloist, Mount Abe senior Kai Correll, took his recording equipment out to his car. “I did my audio recordings in the driver’s seat, to at least be in a ‘closed room,’” he said. “It was trial and error. The app would crash or I would run out of breath at the wrong time or for some other reason I wouldn’t get what I wanted. I did like 90 versions before sending it in.”
When it came time to make the video recording, Correll chose a spot in front of his New Haven home.
All three students had performed the state song in their younger days, but this was the first time they’d sung it for high school chorus. It wasn’t until Correll heard the final version that he understood the significance of the song selection. “At this time it seems like a really sweet choice,” he said.
Seaton felt like the song brought the three schools — and the Class of 2020 — together. “As seniors we’re missing a lot of things that would have brought closure,” she said. “This (project) has helped with that. The video is something I’ll always have.”
When the video was posted online, Brooks was happy to see the faces of people she hadn’t seen in months. And she was heartened to see such a positive response to the video, which after six days had been viewed more than 26,000 times.
“I think this song was not just for the students but for the whole community,” she said. “This has been a hard year, but we’re pushing through. I know that no matter where I go I will remember this — the support from people during this time. I will always carry that around with me.”
Each student recorded an audio track on Soundtrap, a cloud-based digital audio workstation, and then each recorded a video that they sang along with. After LeBeau and LaRose mixed the audio track, combining the 70 voices, Kurt Broderson of Middlebury Community TV took the video submissions and edited them into a final product, with feedback from the choral directors. “The biggest thing for me was the collaboration,” Broderson said. “We were solving problems as we went along. I found the whole thing pretty inspiring.”
The project is a great example of how artists and musicians have responded to the pandemic in creative ways, he added, and it demonstrates the importance of the arts more broadly. “These Green Mountains” was truly a team effort, LeBeau said.
“Teaching choir virtually is an entirely new experience for all of us. Students demonstrated courage and creativity as they pushed themselves to try new things through audio recordings and editing. Music provides a sense of community and connection for society. As high school schedules change in Addison County, we are thankful to our school communities for the support of the arts and hope that it remains a central focus of our schools.”