Allegheny College Civic Symphony Shares a Virtual Performance

It doesn’t have the same elegant backdrop as the stained-glass windows of Ford Chapel, and it doesn’t enjoy the same acoustics as Shafer Auditorium in the Henderson Campus Center. But the 24 members of the Allegheny College Civic Symphony sound heavenly as they share their latest performance from their individual workspaces and parlors.

Dr. Jennifer Dearden
Dr. Jennifer Dearden

The Civic Symphony is sharing the first of what promises to be several performances emanating from the Music Department of Allegheny College during the remainder of the fall semester. The ensemble performs “High Rise” by Adrian Gordon, which is available to watch above or on the Allegheny College YouTube channel.

It is a relatively new work for string orchestra (2014), and Jennifer Dearden, director of the Civic Symphony, chose the piece “in part because it incorporates some jazz/funk elements, which is something that many collegiate string players have not yet had the opportunity to try. And while it is important to give students the experience playing ‘standard’ orchestral music by familiar names like Beethoven or Haydn, it is equally important that student performers and audiences alike get to know and appreciate music outside the confines of 18th and 19th century Europe.”

With some students studying remotely and others on campus, it has presented a challenge for rehearsing and arranging music, Dearden said.

“Each ensemble has done things a bit differently. The orchestra, normally 50-plus students playing strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, has reduced down to string instruments only, and so all the in-person members are able to rehearse together on the Shafer stage,” she said. “The Wind Symphony and Jazz Band meet in rotating small groups, and the choral ensembles are meeting entirely on Zoom. Remote students in instrumental ensembles have used specialized software, called SmartMusic, to submit work and still participate in the ensemble, playing the same repertoire as the students rehearsing in person.”

Coordinating all the individual feeds from the musicians can be tricky work. “The largest challenge we had was that the first attempt at recording ‘High Rise’ just didn’t work — the individual files weren’t lining up and we had to record them again using a different technique,” said Dearden. “That was an especially difficult thing to have to ask the students to do, but they stepped up and the resulting product was worth the extra effort. The Department as a whole has had to rethink other things like instrument storage and how students can use practice rooms safely.”

Still to come this fall?

“The orchestra will have at least two, hopefully three, more videos released. Next up will be a string version of Edward Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations. The other ensembles all have recordings at various stages of the process right now; some ensembles will release audio recordings rather than video,” said Dearden.