Performance majors make music from their living rooms during COVID-19

John Stimmel ’20 (Digital Media Management) created this video collage using clips from Department of Music senior recital recordings.

For music performance majors, a senior recital is a rite of passage: A chance to showcase years of preparation and growth before moving on to career and further study.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for New Paltz students to experience an in-person recital this year, the Class of 2020 was undeterred, with many performers publishing virtual recitals on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

“It is extremely disappointing that my students could not perform their senior recitals, a culminating event that we have planned from the moment they came here as freshmen,” said Alex Peh, assistant professor of piano. “But I am so proud of how quickly our students were able to adapt to wildly uncertain times, to create beautiful videos. If nothing else, this is an opportunity to learn to adapt quickly and creatively.”

Inspired by musicians worldwide posting music on the internet from home while social distancing, senior classical and jazz performance majors used smartphone technology and apps like GarageBand and Acapella to record and combine tracks, creating solo and ensemble videos.

Elana Kellerhouse ’20 (Music) created a video using an app that makes it easy to record and combine multiple tracks of video and sound. For her senior recital she performed both parts of an arrangement of Schubert’s Standchen for viola and piano, and Schumann’s Marchenbilder, accompanying herself on the piano while she played viola.

“Being able to collaborate with other musicians and have that human connection is one of the core joys of music for me,” said Kellerhouse. “Despite losing this due to quarantine, I was able to explore a kind of musical independence through recording my Schumann and accompanying myself on piano. I experienced a real freedom in making the piece my own.”

Students focusing on jazz performance also found ways to adapt to new limitations. Vocal performer Carly Walsh ’20 (Music; Digital Media Management) had planned a live thesis recital. Her pivot to a recorded submission changed the project in fundamental ways, but also left her with a lasting asset for her portfolio.

“Recordings definitely do not equate to a live performance,” Walsh said. “However, now I have these recordings which I am going to share periodically. I am extremely grateful to my applied professor, Teri Roiger, for her patience, support, and encouragement throughout this whole process.”

While the disappointment of losing the senior recital remains, the challenges posed by remote performance created opportunity for a different kind of growth, pushing students to develop new approaches.

“Ever since I started at New Paltz, my senior recital was always something in the back of my mind,” said Bianca Checa ’20 (Music). “I remember seeing a student recital as a freshman and thinking about how one day that would be me, but that never happened. In place of a recital, I opted to record my repertoire and post it on YouTube. This challenge proved more difficult than I expected. It took days of playing hours on end to get a recording that I liked of each piece.”

Reflecting on the unprecedented spring 2020 semester, Associate Professor Christiana Fortune-Reader, violist and director/conductor of the College Youth Symphony, said these experiences have only underscored the importance of music for her and her students.

“The value of music as a balm for the soul is very nearly universal, and can bring profound consolation when words seem inadequate,” said Fortune-Reader. “We need music, now more than ever, as a way to connect to each other and lift our spirits.”

In addition to Kellerhouse, Walsh and Checa, the following students created senior recitals for the spring 2020 semester:

Alex Endres ’20 (Music), Janet Marie Turner ’20 (Music), Alexa Marie Fini ’20 (Music), Zachary Huebsch ’20 (Music), Stephanie Page ’20 (Music), James Etienne ’20 (Music), Ryan Perrone ’20 (Music), Kelly Zhang ’20 (Music; Digital Media Management) and Mark Laaninen ’20 (Music; History).

Videos of all senior recitals can be found on the Department of Music website, the department’s Instagram page and a 2020 seniors YouTube playlist.