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SCHOOL - "Why We Sing - Choir Year Ends on a High Note"

BOX ELDER COUNTY – By Ellen Cook – May 28, 2020

Nothing has gone as planned since the COVID-19 pandemic brought life to a screeching halt in March, school activities included. That meant teachers had to become more creative, more innovative and more resourceful in educating.

Maria Scott, choir teacher at Bear River Middle School in Garland and Alice C. Harris Intermediate School in Tremonton did just that. In her first year with the Box Elder School District, Scott was charged with instructing over 100 students enrolled in BRMS Concert Choir and Women’s Chorus, as well as ACHI’s 7th grade Honors Choir. It was the last trimester. Classes were running smoothly, students were learning new songs and Scott was planning a concert for the end of the year so her young vocalists could perform for their family and friends.

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Maria Scott - Courtesy photo

Then the virus hit, and the music room went silent.

Scott admits she was unhappy. “They are a fantastic, very talented group of students,” she said of her students. “I really missed them. It was hard for me and I know it was hard for them.”

Scott had to come up with a plan to keep her students singing, if not in the classroom, in their living rooms.

“With the shutdown, I had to show the students that we can make something positive out of a difficult situation. I wanted them to have at least one positive memory of online choir.”

Her idea wasn’t exactly original. ‘I’ve seen virtual choir videos before, famous ones,” she said, but the concept was new for her and most of her students – a BRMS/ACHI Combined Online Choir.

Scott chose a song that was already on her now-cancelled concert list, one that she thought would be a good closing number. The song was “Why We Sing,” by Greg Gilpin. She then sent out an audio of herself singing each of the parts (soprano, alto, tenor and base) and asked the class members to learn it - and learn it well. She hoped her plan would keep the musical notes flowing.

It was not the only song they were tasked to practice during the 20 minutes of daily music she asked they work on, however, but it was the most important one. “It was an assignment and was, by far, the largest portion of their grade, counting like a concert,” said Scott.

Along with the audio came detailed instructions on what the students were required to do.

“They were to use headphones and listen to the audio track with their parts. I wanted them to listen to that while looking at the music into a camera recording them so they could see and hear their parts. I told them to watch out for background noises and to be careful about when to start and when to stop. It was a lot to ask of them. It was a huge challenge,” Scott said.

The assignment was given on April 20 and due back May 8.

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While most were genuinely excited to participate, a few opted out, choosing to do a written assignment instead. In the end, 73 students lent their young voices to the final video.

The individual videos did not all come back perfect on the first try, however. Scott said than many videos had to be redone a second or even a third time because the original could not be used due to giggles or strange noises on the recording.

“Even with that, I was really impressed with the effort they made to make this an amazing performance,” she added.

Some of the young sopranos also sent in short videos suitable for the beginning solo. Scott chose the one recorded by Savana Marble.

“Many of the girls were very good and it was tough to choose,” according to Scott. “Hers struck me as a good fit. She had a nice stage presence and there was an innocence in the video. You can see in her face the joy as she is singing.”

The real work came after the assignments were all in. Scott had to work with two unfamiliar video programs to put it all together, but by May 20, it was ready to be released. She sent it out to students, parents and school administrators.

“The response was overwhelming,” Scott said. “It was so positive and affirming, people loved it. Honestly, I did not expect that kind of response. I loved it because I love my students and I thought parents might enjoy it, but I was stunned.”

After viewing it, ACHI assistant principal, Todd Barrow, wrote, “Oh, my goodness, Maria! This is awesome. I am going to send it to the whole staff and put it on Facebook! It was so good to see those kids again!”

A thrilled parent wrote, “I love this!!! What a perfectly wonderful idea!! I am so proud of my daughter…she loves to sing in a group and is VERY shy about singing alone. It took a lot of courage for her to do this without the others. Thank you for encouraging her to do this.”

Another parent with a pair of music students commented, “That was totally amazing and fun to watch!!! (Names withheld) were petrified to record it. They had never recorded like that. They have only performed live. It was a great experience.”

One of the teachers at BRMS sent this message to Scott, “Oh, my gosh, this is so amazing. Seriously, it is just short of a miracle to get that many kids to learn their parts all on their own at home and record themselves singing. I can’t tell you how overcome with emotion this made me. I actually cried while they were singing it. Thanks so much for taking the time to create this precious memory.”

Scott said those emotional reactions are exactly why she carries such a passion for music and what she wants to bring out in her students.

“They are such fun personalities at this age. They are trying to figure themselves out and I am doing my darndest to help them understand that we can never control what others think about us anyway, so why worry about it. Music is something positive to lift them. It is a creative outlet for their emotions.”

And, in the end, isn’t that exactly why we all sing?

Watch the video below.


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