8th Grade Orchestra Fighting Through the Pandemic


Ryan, Reporter

Despite the hardships of the pandemic and its impact on music groups, North Star’s 8th Grade Orchestra continues to make music with virtual recordings of many prominent pieces, such as the Ukranian Bell Carol and Telemann’s Sinfonia from Trio in A Minor. Since regulations during the COVID-19 crisis prohibit gathering together in person, music ensembles use what they can to continue to make music together. Some tools orchestras and bands utilize are online meeting services like Google Meet and Zoom. However, latency between audio and video make playing together using these services very difficult, as it begins to throw the timing of musicians off kilter. However, these meeting services aren’t the only tools in use. Other tools include music editing and recording software, like Soundtrap or GarageBand. This year, the 8th graders use Soundtrap for the majority of their recording projects. “Soundtrap is very ‘user friendly’ and has made it possible for us to make our recordings,” music director Ms. McNamara says. 

In these recording projects, members of the orchestra play along to backing tracks of the other instruments in the piece (which are recorded beforehand by Ms. McNamara herself). After they record their best take, they submit it using the ‘save’ feature on Soundtrap, where Ms. McNamara will do some finishing touches on their recordings before adding it in with the rest of the recordings, then finally presenting it as a piece that becomes a finished product without needing to meet in person. However, these recordings are most of what becomes the finished product of the Orchestra, as technology that reduces latency enough for musicians to play together has not been implemented as of yet. Thus, performing together virtually in real time isn’t possible, but the recordings are available at all times.

However, recording has its downsides, as many problems arise during recording and editing. “We need to stand in an area that is almost completely silent with minimum background noise, play loud enough for the microphone to catch, and wear headphones during the recording process,” 8th grader Maya P says, “with everyone at home, it is hard to have a space with complete quiet… [and] wearing wired headphones limits the arm space I have.” 

Soundtrap also sometimes may not capture the audio you want correctly. Recordings can also not stick to the same tempo. “For me and my recordings, I have to play along with the metronome very carefully,” Ms. McNamara says. For 8th grader Calvin, some of the harder parts are, “When you mess up and you have to edit your recording.” 

However, recording virtually has its pros compared to live performances. Ms. McNamara states that, “We can do many takes before actually saving a recording and we have a lasting product.” This means that even if we made a noticeable mistake during a recording, we have as many chances as we want to make the best take we can. Compared to a live performance where we only have one chance to get it right, making recordings and putting them together seems like a good opportunity to perfect a performance that might have otherwise been tainted by an obvious mistake. 

On the other hand, many people prefer performing live as well. To Ms. McNamara, “There is nothing like the excitement of playing live and the satisfaction and pride of playing well.” Many audio and coordination issues also are no cause for concern when performing live. As Maya says, “I can see Ms. McNamara’s head on Google Meets, whereas in a live orchestra I might not be able to see her, and it would be harder to follow her conducting.” Performing live, as 8th grader Mikey feels, “…has more of a reward feeling at the end.”

Regardless of the preferred tech tools, orchestra members have enjoyed making wonderful music despite the pandemic. Many people have improved their technological skills and playing aptitude through the recordings of these magnificent pieces. Ms. McNamara puts it quite well, “We have learned a lot through these recording projects… I have gotten better and faster at editing just from recording.” Pieces like the Barber of Seville, by Gioachino Rossini or even Wet Hands by Daniel Rosenfeld have introduced Orchestra members to a wide variety of musical genres and styles. Almost everyone believes that our venture into the world of virtual music-making has been a valuable experience and was extremely exciting.

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