Friday, October 2, 2020

Windham Chamber Singers to present ‘An American Family Holiday’ concert online

By Elizabeth Richards

The Windham Chamber Singers holiday show, “An American Family Holiday,” is a much-anticipated community event. This year, the show will go on, virtually.

Dr. Rick Nickerson, Director of Choral Music at Windham High School said that his subject matter presents unique challenges this school year.

“Every teacher had to adapt the way we teach. In music, we were the only ones who had to adjust what we teach, which has been an enormous challenge,” he said.

Because of the pandemic, the popular Windham
Chamber Singers holiday show 'An American 
Family Holiday' will be presented virtually this
year and available on You Tube.
The Chamber Singers have been especially challenging, Nickerson said, since it is an afterschool activity rather than a class. In classes, he said, students can do projects around theory, history, and techniques. They can also use a program called SmartMusic, which allows students to sing along with computerized singers and record their work.

Nickerson said that the Chamber Singers, however, are all about singing together, which is prohibited inside the school. Current guidelines allow for singing outdoors only, masked, spaced 14 feet apart. This year the Chamber Singers, who have traditionally met on Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m., have had virtual rehearsals and a couple of rehearsals on the baseball field where they can space out appropriately. The program is important to keep going, not only because of what it provides students musically, but also what it provides them socially, Nickerson said.

The baseball field rehearsal was far from ideal, Nickerson said. Even the wind made it difficult for students to hear each other. But the students were excited to be together and wanted to continue rehearsing that way. For some students who were selected for the group after video auditions in the spring, these rehearsals were the first time they’d been with the whole group in person.

Nickerson acknowledged that the ability to meet outside will change as the weather turns colder. Already, the rehearsals are much shorter than usual so students can be home before it gets too cold. They’re taking things one step at a time, Nickerson said.

“I told them the other night if we keep meeting these challenges head on, eventually when this is over we’re going to be a stronger group, and we’ll realize just how much of everyday life we’ve taken for granted,” he said.

Currently, the group is focused on creating a virtual version of their annual An American Family Holiday concert. For this year only, the concert is being renamed A Maine Family Holiday, and will have a Maine theme, in celebration of the state’s bicentennial.

The 90-minute concert will premiere on the Windham Chamber Singers You Tube channel at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 5. The program will include virtual choirs and much more.

“Now that we’re moving exclusively to video, while it limits what we can do musically, it also opens up some other possibilities,” Nickerson said.

His original brainstorm for the An American Family Holiday concert was to model it after old-time variety shows. A virtual show lends itself well to that format. Guest stars can participate much more easily since no travel is involved, Nickerson said.

Nickerson said they aren’t releasing names of guest performers, since they want the premiere to be full of surprises. “Some of the exciting things that are going to happen the students don’t even know about,” he said.

With a virtual concert, many elements must be ready earlier than for a live concert, since the editing process takes time.

“With a traditional concert we were working towards a specific date. With this, because it’s a video project of this magnitude, we’re going to have lots of different dates we’re working towards,” Nickerson said.

They’ll take it one song at a time, and the editing process will begin in just a couple of weeks, he said.

This concert is typically the Chamber Singers biggest fundraiser. Donation pages will be available for those who wish to contribute to the group towards future needs.

“I don’t know what the spring is going to hold, but eventually down the road we will be back to normal, whatever that normal is,” Nickerson said. “For me, normal just means we can have all the choirs in the choir room singing.”

While this format is certainly not his preference, Nickerson said, “We’re trying to make the best out of a terrible situation.”

 He knows how important the concert is to the community, he added, and has already received phone calls asking if they were going to do something. Nickerson said he’s very excited about what they are putting together.

“It’s going to be great. It’s not only going to celebrate our town, we’re looking forward to celebrating this great state of Maine,” he said.<

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