From the Binghamton Community Orchestra:
Binghamton, NY – Faced with a pandemic and stoppage of in-person ensembles, the BCO helped over 60 high school musicians share new music live over the internet. From schools across Broome County, NY, they played and learned together in a weekend virtual festival called Music Outside the Box. The event took place on April 16 – 18, 2021. The project featured live online ensemble performances and exploration of vocal technique through graphic scores. A video of the performance is now being released to the public on May 24, 2021.
Music Director Evan Meccarello, the BCO, and Broome County Music Educators’ Association created this program to provide a live instrumental ensemble experience for music students in Broome County. Music Outside the Box gave some students who missed out on traditional BCMEA festival opportunities the chance to perform music together online. Meccarello connected the students with artists and composers on the cutting edge of today’s creative musical community. The music, which did not rely on synchronized beats, took advantage of the delays normal for internet communications. Embracing the lag made for unique musical effects and special textures. Participating students were able to perform, and BCO clinicians enjoyed an opportunity to mentor these students, all to the benefit of the community.
Students and their teachers had much to say in praise of the event. One student participant told us, “This collaboration really opened my eyes to making music outside of the typical music setting and completely changed my perspective on what qualifies as music, compositions, and singing.” Another said, “It felt more like an actual group rather than isolated boxes on a screen.” Lexi Bryant, Chenango Forks Chorus Director said, “This was incredible to be able to watch students from separate schools collaborate on one project even in the midst of a pandemic!” Joel Smales, Binghamton High School
Band Director added, “It was wonderful to give young kids the opportunity to explore music in a different way, that many of them otherwise would never have had.”
Instrumental students participated in three groups of different sizes under the guidance of Maestro Meccarello. Binghamton Community Orchestra members shared their passion and expertise in instrumental clinics, collectively exploring with students. Students performed works by Angélica Negrón, Dai Fujikura, and Xenia St. Charles Gilbert. Vocal students worked with members of the professional contemporary vocal group, Quince Ensemble. “I thought that the uniqueness of the pieces was fantastic…. you could appreciate the abstractness of the work and the intricacies of playing pieces such as this,” reported one student. With the guidance of Dr. Liz Pearse and Dr. Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, the singers created their own graphic scores using many different vocal techniques. The students vocalized stories in sound, sang the smells of nearby objects, offered vocal meditations, and more.
For most of the students, this was their first time playing experimental music, non-standard notation, or improvisation in a classical setting. The music served dual purposes of enabling live online performance and introducing students to contemporary classical styles and techniques. Giving players choices of rhythm, timing, or pitch allows the composer and musicians to produce musical effects not available through traditional notation and composing techniques.
Organizing an event, the likes of which had never been done before, required a community effort from both organizations. And the community responded. One student commented in appreciation for the effort, “They weren’t afraid to actually gather an ensemble and use that opportunity to experiment.” BCO musicians and BCMEA teachers came together to hone the process beforehand. Rehearsals were held with community volunteers prior to the event to try out procedures, play the pieces, and modify strategies to make things go as smoothly as possible. BCMEA leadership organized its constituents to make possible a high rate of participation and student preparedness. All shared and valued the vision, and put in the effort to bring the event to fruition.
After mere hours of rehearsal four hours of music creation, rehearsal and performance time, students gave emotional, bold performances. They were able to watch the full concert the very next day, thanks to the incredible work of a small engineering team under the direction of Meccarello. A ninth-grade participant told us, “It was fun to watch. It was great to see everybody else’s performances and all of their great creative ideas. Even with zoom delays we still made great music.”
Reflecting on the event, Meccarello said, “I hope this example of young musicians connecting with each other in a live format offers some joy, inspiration, and even laughter through their entertaining performances.” Now, new hope has begun to manifest itself throughout the community that the pandemic may be on the way out. Meccarello continues, “While we are so excited to return to traditional music formats, this performance is an opportunity to experience the subtlety, bravery, and fun of young
musicians making new sounds.” The Music Outside the Box trailer and full video may be viewed at: https://binghamtoncommunityorchestra.org/index.php?id=music-outside-the-box .
The BPO and BCMEA would like to extend a big thank you to all who advised, supported, organized, wrote, play-tested, and managed Music Outside the Box.
This event is made possible with public funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and administered by The Earlville Opera House.
Additional support for the Broome DEC Program graciously provided by the Stewart W. and Willma C. Hoyt Foundation, Inc.