Choir classes successfully adapt to virtual format


Photo courtesy of Maddie Fernandez

WJ’s Pop Fly choir performs at the Senior Citizen Thanksgiving Luncheon. The choir is unique in that it involves both singing and dancing.

After six months of putting up with the pandemic, some cherished pastimes are finally reemerging. Professional sports have returned with a vengeance, movie theaters are cautiously reopening with films like “Tenant” being released in some theaters, and restaurants are once again providing indoor seating. Cautious optimism is in the air this fall, but it is still important to remember what is still trapped in COVID’s clutches.

Schools all over the world have been forced to completely restructure. This is especially true for music programs, which used to rely heavily on in-person instruction. The teachers of Walter Johnson’s award-winning music department have had to grapple with the question — how can it continue online? Of all the clubs and classes in the school, it is the choirs who have had to undergo the largest transformation. According to Emory University, singing can project droplets up to 12 feet away from the source. This makes singing one of the most effective ways for the virus to spread and ensures that it will be one of the last facets of life to return to normal once this all is over. In the meantime, WJ choir teacher Kelly Butler has done what she does best: get creative.

For the first quarter, she was joined by Mary Shea Kustas, a student-teacher from UMD’s renowned music program. Show choir, a class that involves both singing and dancing, has continued smoothly.

“I was first trying to figure out how I could structure the time with something interesting, relevant and productive,” Butler said. “I really enjoy music/art history and thought of a way it would work for both show choir and regular choir/orchestra.”

Show Choir, or “Pop Fly,” now involves learning music history, recording voices, and dancing in sync over zoom. Senior Jaden Gaines is currently in three WJ choirs (Advanced Choir, Show Choir and Madrigals) and is an active member of the theater department.

“I think it is very fun, but I definitely miss being in person and seeing all my friends and Mrs. Butler. Also, I wish we could be able to sing with each other and learn new music in person, as that is the most fun part of choir for me other than the social aspect,” Gaines said.

At the other end of the spectrum, senior Colin Browning is new to choir. He started Show Choir this year to hone his singing and dancing skills with the help of his friends.

“At first I found it confusing to try and learn all of the warm-ups and traditions, but once I grew familiar, I learned how strong and close the community was,” Browning said.

Even as the members of Show Choir sit in their own homes, staring at each other’s little Zoom boxes, the sense of companionship is not lost. Speaking of companionship, Ms. Butler has had the opportunity to work with her fellow choir teachers more than usual this year.

“It’s actually one of the perks of this experience – I feel like we are more connected than in past years where the school year starts and we all get bogged down in our individual programs. I hope we continue to collaborate as much once we all go back,” Butler said.

The unrelenting optimism of Butler and her students has highlighted the sheer tenacity of the WJ music department. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: no pandemic, hurricane, flood, earthquake or anything else of that nature will keep our choirs from making beautiful music each and every day.