St. Olaf choirs return to in-person rehearsal

St. Olaf College has prioritized campus choirs — part of the College’s distinctive music program — in its reopening plans for the semester. Having now begun in-person rehearsals, singers have to contend with all sorts of pandemic-related changes to normal operations. 

Directors hold in-person choir meetings in the tents near Hoyme Hall and Thorson Hall, or in large indoor spaces like the Pause or Boe Chapel. Most of the choirs are split into multiple groups, as there are too many participants to meet at once. Choirs meet for less time than normal because rotating sessions and time needed to air out indoor spaces make longer meetings impossible. Campus protocols also require singers to wear masks and stand approximately nine feet apart. 

“We’re being extremely protective and careful, because we don’t want to be that ‘thing.’ It’s a time to be very, very careful,” Visiting Associate Professor of Music Therees Hibbard, director of Manitou Singers, said. “We don’t mind putting up with a lot … it makes us realize how important [in-person choir] is.”

Students agree that the opportunity to sing together eclipses the inconveniences and difficulties of COVID-19 restrictions. 

“With the restrictions all said and done, they’re doing it very well,” Eric Heffelfinger ’23, a member of Chapel Choir, said. 

Choir members are also navigating their personal growth as musicians amid the new restrictions. 

“Part of it is just that hearing other people sing helps me sing better, but since we’re so spread out or online, I don’t really have access to hear other people sing, so I have to rely on my own skills,” Jarret Krous ’23, a Chapel Choir member, said. “Hopefully it helps me improve, but it is too early to tell.”

The inability to rely as readily on other singers and the changes to articulation and projection that come from wearing a mask and being socially distant certainly pose technical challenges for both new and experienced singers. 

In a time of social distancing and loneliness, the emotional and spiritual impact of singing together on this campus has been renewed. 

“And in one way, if you are to look at it with a silver lining, we will never take this for granted again,” Hibbard said. “Of course you can sing over Zoom and we often teach that way; but to be together here, it’s a different dynamic, a different human empathy in artistry.”

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