Kids & Family

Young Singers Who Can't Be Together Join For Virtual Performance

Listen and watch. You'll feel uplifted by their message and might even shed a tear or two!

Everyone has been affected by the isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, but it's been especially hard on kids. They're missing the fun and social connections with friends from school, teammates from sports, even fellow performers from musical and theater groups.

That's why leaders of the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus immediately came up with a way to keep the organization's singers engaged, even though they're stuck at home.

Members of PYC's choirs have been "meeting" virtually on a weekly basis. PYC Artistic Director Shawn Funk explains that the PYC conductors are using a program called Screencastify to create weekly lessons for their students to work on at home. "We send the videos off through e-mail and that becomes their reahearsal time which they're actually craving," said Funk.

Conductors (clockwise) Steve Schmidt, Shawn Funk, Amy Kegel and Angela Evans conducting a Zoom meeting with choristers.Pittsburgh Youth Chorus

Then everyone gets together for a weekly session on Zoom just to catch up. "We always regroup on Zoom to talk and to share and find out what everyone is doing and thinking."

"It gives us a feeling of all being together, that personal contact which is critical."

The one thing that was missing was the opportunity to perform together. Zoom didn't work because of the sound lag between different computers. That's when Funk and PYC Executive Director Lee Saville-Iksic came up with the idea to produce a virtual choir video, in the style of a well-known video produced by Grammy-award winning musician Eric Whitacre. The result is emotional and inspiring.

Saville-Iksic produced the video by inviting choristers to record themselves singing to Funk's accomaniment. He stacked their recordings using Garageband software, and finally, added video of the singers.

Funk says they chose to perform the song Homeward Bound because it would have been the final piece in PYC's spring concert, which has been cancelled.

"Homeward Bound" would have been the final piece in PYC's now-cancelled spring concert.Pittsburgh Youth Chorus/Facebook

The staff felt the text applied to the current situation. "The message for our singers is that everyone's on a journey, and it's about being free to go on this journey but having the ability to turn to home when you need to," said Funk, who pointed out the parallels to the coronavirus crisis. "We're on a journey. We know we're going to sing our repertoire. We can't tell you where or when, but we will return to where we started, and that really resonated with them."

Funk says the kids joked that the song could be re-named "Homebound" under the circumstances, bringing a moment of levity during a tough time!

Funk leads PYC's four youth choirs and other young singers on "Singing Saturday" March 7. Little did they know it would be the last time they'd sing together for a whilePittsburgh Youth Chorus/Facebook

Funk says the staff definitely plans to produce more virtual songs, with the next one likely feauring PYC's newest choir, The Bridge City Singers, a group of high school tenors and basses. Funk believes continuing to make music together helps us all be reassured that "this too shall pass. It's a time of unknowns, but there's still power in music and strength in working together."

How can you start something good?

With the release of the video, Pittsburgh Youth Chorus is also launching a GoFundMe campaign, hoping community support will help raise some of the revenue from lost performance opportunities including the spring concert and cancelled performances of Carmen with the Pittsburgh Opera.

Full disclosure: I serve on the PYC Board of Directors, so I'd be personally grateful if you'd help us #StartSomethingGood (or in our case, continue it!).

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