A Remote Chance at Making Music

In a typical year, December would feature our student ensembles filling the campus with music. Even though we haven’t been able to greet our audiences in Heinz Chapel or Bellefield Hall Auditorium, our students and directors have been hard at work, creatively adapting to the challenges of making music in the midst of a pandemic. This December we’re pleased to present a combination of new audio recordings, recordings from our archives, virtual performances, and live-to-video performances that capture the breadth of effort and musical variety.

In their first full semester, the Bluegrass Ensemble, led by Professor Adriana Helbig, makes its debut with a recording of the classic murder ballad “Tom Dooley.” The recording includes research on the history of the song presented by members of the ensemble. Listen to “Tom Dooley” and find out more about this project.

The Pitt Jazz Ensemble and director Ralph Guzzi put together several virtual video performances as part of this year’s 50th Annual Jazz Seminar and Concert.  These include an arrangement of Jazz Seminar founder Nathan Davis’ "I Love Paris" and some of Guzzi’s own compositions, including "Mr. Parker’s Shoes." The students recorded their own audio and videos and Guzzi produced the complete video performance. Watch “Mr. Parker’s Shoes.”

Yamoussa Camara and the African Music and Dance Ensemble gave a performance from Bellefield Hall Auditorium on November 13 which we livestreamed over YouTube.  Despite rehearsing remotely all semester and having to perform with masks and social distancing, the students were incredibly cohesive. They even managed to pull off a dance number! Watch AMDE perform “Yankadi” and “Macrou.”

The Afropop Ensemble has continued to meet remotely and collaborated on a recording of two songs: “Feeling” by South African Soul singer Zonke and “Malaika,” a folk song from Tanzania that was popularized by South African Afro Jazz singer Miriam Makeba. Listen to “Malaika.”

Heinz Chapel Choir and Director Susan Rice have created a compilation album of holiday music from 2014-19. The album will also include one new song recorded this year in Heinz Memorial Chapel. To maintain social distancing, HCC had to record in two small cohorts with members spaced throughout the Chapel. Dr. Rice had to be very careful to conduct each group the same way. It was a big logistical challenge, but it’s wonderful to hear this year’s choir in their performing home. All proceeds from the album will benefit The Neighborhood Resilience Project and we expect to make the album available through heinzchapelchoir.com on December 11.

The Symphony Orchestra, directed by Roger Zahab, is finishing up virtual performances of music by Julia Perry, Guillaume de Machaut, and George Frideric Handel. Zahab arranged African American composer Julia Perry’s “Prelude” especially for the orchestra. We expect these performances will go live on the Music at Pitt YouTube Page on December 18.

Many ensembles have released virtual performances, but the Women’s Choral Ensemble and Men’s Glee Club have created an entire virtual concert they’re calling A Holiday Masque.  Directed by Lorraine Milovac and Richard Teaster, the two choirs will present a wide variety of seasonal music that has been a staple of their live performances over the years. The 2020 virtual concert will include traditional carols, music from Bach’s Magnificat, and popular favorites like “Winter Wonderland” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” A Holiday Masque will go live on the Music at Pitt YouTube Page on Saturday, December 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Listen to our ensemble directors discussing the challenges of music making this fall on the Music at Pitt Podcast.