BYU Men’s Chorus finds new ways to perform despite COVID-19

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BYU Men’s Chorus performs their concert pieces for audio recording on their last day of class, March 12, after BYU announced they would cancel classes and concerts due to COVID-19. (Screenshot provided by BYU Men’s Chorus and Jacob Vanderwerken)

BYU Men’s Chorus never performed its final concert due to COVID-19. Instead, the chorus and its alumni have decided to give a virtual performance to uplift the public.

All alumni, including those previous to Hall’s tenure, and current chorus members were invited to participate in a virtual performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” They are recording videos individually to conform to social distancing regulations, then the chorus media committee will collect and edit the videos together.

“I think this video is very different from the original concert planned, just as a lot of things that have been shifted because of COVID-19, but I believe we have done the best we can with what we’ve been handed and I’m excited to see something magical come together,” said Jacob Vanderwerken, the chorus’s social media coordinator.

The Men’s Chorus virtual choir is optimistically expecting over 1000 video submissions. They hope to release their virtual choir video to the public sometime in May 2020 through their social media channels.

“It has been wonderful to see our media team embrace this opportunity with both the know-how and the desire to make it happen,” Men’s Chorus Director Rosalind Hall said.

The original end-of-the-semester performance was named “Men’s Chorus Greatest Hits.” The concert was planned to take place on March 27 in the De Jong Concert Hall, with a special alumni performance to be held at the Tabernacle at Temple Square on March 28. Both performances had been sold-out.

This concert would have been the last one of Hall’s career since she is retiring this semester after 21 years. In recent weeks, the Men’s Chorus, including its past presidents, wanted to find a way to celebrate Hall, and they emailed Hall requesting that they perform virtually.

“At first, I hesitated because I had no idea how to do it — technology is not my thing,” Hall said.

Vanderwerken and one of his media committee members, Zach Griffin, presented the new idea to Hall and told her what technical logistics were needed to make the idea function. Hall is still participating in the project as the head coordinator.

“That (decision) was a very happy moment because I feel that this provides Sister Hall with an even better ending to her chapter at BYU and to the men that she has loved and served for 21 years,” Vanderwerken said.

The road to creating this music video had been unexpected. Previous planning for the in-person March concert had started as far back as 2019.

“I spend hours during the previous year looking for new music, dreaming up ideas for sets and putting the whole thing together. It takes hundreds of hours to put together a program,” Hall said.

Hall, the BYU Men’s Chorus and the chorus presidency had worked most of Fall 2019 and all of winter semester on their specific songs for their last concert.

“Sister Hall puts a massive amount of effort and focus into preparing the program, the music and into preparing all of us, not just musically but all of us mentally. You can feel a transformation coming over the choir over the course of the fall semesters, where we ultimately always accumulate into the final Men’s Chorus concert,” said Briton Demars, the media manager for the chorus.

Demars said that he and Vanderwerken had worked to boost publicity for the concerts scheduled for March 2020. He said their final goal had been to maximize the impact that “Men’s Chorus Greatest Hits” would have.

The original idea to celebrate Hall’s retirement and final concert had come from Hall’s husband.

He encouraged her to invite all previous alumni who had sung in the choir under Hall’s tenure to submit their favorite pieces from their time in the chorus. With over three thousand emails sent out to survey alumni, Hall created a program for the March 2020 concert that showcased the top 18 favorite songs.

With hopes that the concert would still continue in March despite COVID-19, the alumni and current Men’s Chorus presidency took the idea one step further.

Past Men’s Chorus presidents, including alumnus Colby Rampton, who was president from 2003-2004, along with the current presidency and officers decided to invite all willing alumni to perform at the concert.

“The first thought that I had was, you know, in Lord of the Rings, when it says, ‘One does not simply walk into Mordor’ and then I just thought, ‘One does not simply conduct Men’s Chorus for 20 years, and go away without some sort of thank you,'” Rampton said.

Just over 500 alumni from Hall’s 20-year tenure responded to the invite and pledged to return.

The official notification for the cancellation of all concerts, classes and other large gatherings was emailed to Hall on the evening of March 11.

“I have to confess. I cried. It was a really hard moment,” Hall said in a tear-stricken voice. “In one moment reading that email, it all just disappeared.”

Hall said that she had previously been mentally reviewing how her “month of lasts” would go — her last rehearsal, her last concert. With the advent of COVID-19 and BYU’s measures to slow the spread, Hall realized that she had already had her “lasts” without even knowing it.

“It wasn’t hard because it was my last concert. It wasn’t hard because I would just be walking out the door without any closure. That wasn’t hard at all. It was hard because my students had worked so hard for this concert and now they weren’t going to get to sing it,” she said.

Demars said the concert cancellation affected him so much because of what Men’s Chorus has meant to him. “Men’s Chorus has made me the best self of me. And that’s all because of Sister Hall.”

The men of the chorus gathered on their Facebook group to discuss how to approach their last day of class and no concerts.

“All 180 of us are on that Facebook group, we all message it in and say ‘Hey, everyone where your Men’s Chorus uniforms. Wear your ties. Wear your jackets with your crest. Wear your slacks. Wear you’re shined shoes. And let’s try to give Sister Hall best last day
that she never will have,” Demars said.

Rosalind Hall directs the Men’sChorus in class as they record the concert pieces they would have performed for the public if their concert hadn’t been canceled due to COVID-19. (Screenshots provided by BYU Men’s Chorus and Jacob Vanderwerken)

BYU Men’s Chorus met for their last class together at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12.

“We all showed up in the uniform. It was very touching when we walked into class since we realized that would be our last rehearsal with Sister Hall,” Demars said. “She’s very beloved to all of us.”

To commemorate their hard work, Hall decided to spend their final rehearsal recording the songs they would have sung in the concert.

“We sang through our repertoire that we would have sung in the concert and I just remember Sister Hall saying that ‘That was better than anything that we could have given her. (Better than) anything that we could have given her in a concert or in any kind of venue,'” Demars said.

Vanderwerken said that even though their recorded performance wasn’t ready for the public, the mini-concert they held on that last day of class allowed the choir to celebrate their success personally.

Hall promised to let each choir member have an individual copy of the recording for personal use.

Though the in-class recordings won’t be released to the public, new preparations for their virtual choir music video will still permit alumni to participate and commemorate Hall’s legacy and their time with the Men’s Chorus.

“I hope that people will find peace and react by recognizing God and His hand. I also hope that people will turn to one another to ensure that others around them never have to feel as though they are walking alone,” Vanderwerken said.

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