Students at Western Michigan University are making a statement about the permanence of choir at their school while also making a difference in their community. Seventy choir students and their director, Kimberly Dunn Adams, created a virtual concert called "Choir for Good" - both an assurance that group singing will outlast the pandemic and that their groups can do good works.
Adams divided the students into eight smaller groups and assigned each smaller choir a musical work to study. The students viewed the piece through a social justice lens, including research on the composer, the time period, and the work's text. Some students listened to podcasts and watched interviews with the selected composers. Other groups were able to meet with their assigned composer on Zoom, and one group recorded their song with the composer live, albeit long distance. The students focused more on this research than they would typically since they could not rehearse their usual amount due to Covid safety protocols. Yet this did not mean their performance suffered. Some students received tips from the composers on how to perform the more advanced techniques included in their works, according to student and Choir for Good participant Justin Hamann.
After analyzing the music, the students researched relevant charities to determine an appropriate organization to spotlight. "They had to read charity rating websites; they had to find the 990 tax forms. We looked at the governance structure, fund usage, mission statements and diversity and inclusion statements," says Adams. The organizations selected by the students include the YWCA of Kalamazoo, Water for People, the March of Dimes, Outfront Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, Senior Services of Van Buren County, ERRACE, and Invisible Need. The YWCA noted that "Without the support of that community and individuals, we could not accomplish our mission here at the YWCA. It takes a community to eliminate racism and empower women, and it's just crucial to our services."
Finally, the students recorded their pieces - masked, socially distanced, and often outside - and uploaded them into a virtual concert experience. The video captions included what the students learned about the works' background and why they selected their specific nonprofit.
"When the pandemic started, everybody wondered if choral music was still going to be possible. And a lot of choral conductors were afraid when the pandemic was finally past us, the music scene would have changed so much that choral music would never return to what it was … With everything that's going on in our community, our country and our world, sometimes it almost felt indulgent to just enjoy making music," Adams says. "So I had the idea for this project that we focus on high-level musical performance, like we always do, but then analyze the text of the songs with an eye toward social justice and making connections in the community … Music can create connections that didn't exist otherwise, and we can use our art to amplify the good work of other people."