Music wears a lot of hats. It can be therapeutic, nostalgic, and euphoric. It’s also a constant that’s seemingly always there.

That especially rings true during the holiday season—even in 2020. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic alters annual traditions such as large gatherings, a combined effort between music and production faculty and students is ensuring those tunes synonymous with this time of year are still delivered.

Interim Director of the School of Music Dr. Adriana Ransom and ensemble directors have had to reimagine what music performance looks like this fall, as the airborne virus has made traditional performances a near impossible task. The University’s annual Music for the Holidays concert—rightly so—succumbed to public safety guidelines. For a final project of the fall semester, Ransom worked with Rose Marshack, music business professor, and Dr. Kristin Carlson, assistant professor of creative technologies, to give regular concert goers their holiday music fix.

Music students recorded holiday tunes either in small ensembles (with safety precautions in place) or entirely online. Then, creative technology students assembled the recordings into videos to post on social media or send out via email.  There will be around 25 to 30 videos.

“People want to be able to celebrate the holidays, and they can’t do it, and how can they fix that?” Marshack said. “When we can have our students thinking compassionately and solving for problems for other people, it’s wonderful.”

Senior Andrea McAfee, a music education major, loves the holiday season. She was very on board with this project when it was pitched to her and her saxophone ensemble. After all the alterations in how they played their music the last couple of months, the group was more than ready to help deliver this service to ears craving December jingles. 

McAfee’s saxophone group performed “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” for their project. As they’ve done all semester, they played with proper precautions. They organized the classroom so they could be physically distanced, wore masks with holes just for the mouthpiece, and had bell covers.

But for this one, which took two weeks to put together with a couple of rehearsals, they also donned Santa hats.

“(It was rewarding) just getting to play something different and doing something for fun,” McAfee said. “Sometimes music feels like work, and this didn’t. We got to perform it live, in the sense that we were together and that we were feeding off each other.”

Some of the other projects included a clarinet ensemble performing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and a tuba-euphonium group playing “Santa Wants a Tuba for Christmas.”

What took place in a rehearsal room was recorded and then shipped to students on the production side in music business and video courses. Senior creative technologies major Sean Wilkinson’s group was in contact with Dr. Tony Marinello, director of bands. Once Marinello sent the videos, their role was to splice them accordingly and create proper intro and exit pieces to bring it all together.

Faculty left the problem solving up to students, and that preparation can only help Wilkinson when he pursues a hopeful career in sound design and music recording.

“You have to be able to think on your feet and work pretty quickly together,” Wilkinson said.

Students in the ISU orchestra and in choral ensembles also participated in the project. For some video projects, the School of Music provided archived recordings of decades-old holiday concerts, appeasing to alumni.

Faculty noted how much students embraced the project and came together to create a service for others.

“We’ve done collaborations before, but we’ve never done anything quite like this,” Carlson said. “Each project is different and presents different challenges and experiences. But this has been fantastic. It’s really nice for my students.”

While it might not replace gathering together in a large concert hall to hear the sounds of the season, this project has provided another platform for music to flow—especially at a time when people seek it most. It also provided Illinois State students in both music and production a fun outlet to become even more versatile as they enter the industry.

“It’s one of those examples of making the most out of a difficult situation,” Ransom said. “It has been a great project to finish out the semester.”

Apply now for fall 2021.