College Music Department Reflects on Events of 2020 Through ‘Musical Encounters’

By Molly Walsh

Throughout this past year, many Americans have faced an uncertain future, continuing to wrestle with feelings of isolation, a need for social justice and a longing for connection. And for many musicians, this isolation has been compounded by empty theater seats and rehearsals restricted to a computer screen. Drawing from the experience of pandemic life, the South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) Music Department, will premiere their latest virtual performance, “Musical Encounters“, on April 9.

Reflecting on themes of distance, justice and the collective experience of 2020, “Musical Encounters” weaves together musical performances from SPSCC students, faculty and members of the community from the SPSCC Percival Choir, SPSCC Symphony Orchestra and the SPSCC Jazz Band. 

Similar in format to many performances throughout the pandemic, “Musical Encounters” used a remote production process to weave together the contributions from each musician. Touching upon themes of isolation and connection, “Encounters” will reveal a sort of intersection between the performance’s subject matter and the lived experience of the performers. During production, many of the larger ensemble pieces required each musician to record their piece individually. This drew a stark contrast for the musicians who are used to a live, in-person performance, where they play with the feedback and support of fellow ensemble members by their side.

“It’s delayed gratification,” said SPSCC Music Professor, Cameron May. “They don’t get that weekly sense of doing something together. It’s more of a shot in the dark.”

In March of 2020, the concert season for the SPSCC Music Department was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying social distancing regulations. After in person gatherings were postponed indefinitely, the department’s music ensembles entered a temporary pause, since no structure was in place to conduct remote rehearsals. As the year progressed, though, and as the department found new ways to rehearse virtually, ensembles gradually began to record shorter performances.

“Musical Encounters” was initially born out of a collection of smaller performances from the SPSCC Percival Choir, Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band. After faculty noticed common themes in each ensemble’s repertoire, they decided to join forces to create a single virtual concert. May said that although this concert will take a format that many musicians aren’t used to, each ensemble wanted to continue to provide music in the ways that they can.

“When we sat down and chatted about what each of us were doing, we realized that there was this sort of narrative through line on our collective experience over the past 12 months,” said May.

Showcasing a wide swath of the SPSCC Music Department, “Musical Encounters” will include ensemble pieces from the SPSCC Percival Choir, Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band. Several faculty members, including John Guarente, Cameron May, Maria Joyner-Wulf, April Kuhr and Jennifer Hermann are also set to perform throughout the concert. The repertoire for “Encounters” is diverse, but many pieces are connected by common threads of justice and a need for human interaction in a time of social distancing.

From the SPSCC Percival Choir, there will be two pieces that encapsulate the events and experiences of 2020. “Encounters,” a separately titled piece by Wayland Rogers, uses vocal harmony to illuminate the words of poet Kazuaki Tanahashi — drawing on a larger theme of the search for human connection. Recounting the struggle of working toward a more just society, “Make Them Hear You” is a climactic song from the Broadway musical, “Ragtime.” The SPSCC Symphony Orchestra will perform a piece by musician, Florence Price, the first African American woman to have a piece performed by a major orchestra.

For many SPSCC ensemble members, it has been an unprecedented experience to perform in this new virtual environment. Using a majority of the college’s winter quarter to prepare this performance, many musicians recorded their individual pieces at home. Each member’s performance was then edited together by SPSCC faculty.

Visual accompaniments to the hour-long concert will vary but will include a combination of photo montages and video footage of ensemble members. In addition to ensemble performances, SPSCC Jazz Band Director, James Schneider, will perform an original composition. Distanced six feet apart, Cameron May and April Kuhr will perform a piece from Antonín Dvořák on the SPSCC Kenneth J. Minnaert Center stage.

Over the past year, the SPSCC music department and its ensemble musicians have sought out new ways to create. Although many musicians faced an unfamiliar production process, dozens of musicians from the department were able to record over 100 clips to build the foundation of “Musical Encounters.” Spanning multiple genres, each performance is held together through a common need for connection and a creative outlet in the face of tough circumstances.

“It’s got a little something for everyone in terms of musical style,” said SPSCC Music Professor, John Guarente. “And we had a lot of fun doing it. So, whether you’re more into classical…or musical theater, or jazz kind of stuff, we have a little bit of everything.”

SPSCC Music Professor John Guarente, leading the SPSCC Choir in 2018.


The SPSCC Music Department Presents Virtual Concert, Musical Encounters


April 9 at 7:30 p.m.


Premiering on the SPSCC Music Department YouTube channel




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