A chorus of beautiful voices rang through the speakers in Debbie McIlrath’s classroom at Sterling Elementary as a small group of students watched a video of professional singers whose individual performances were edited together into a virtual concert.
And as the video ended, a singular voice continued singing for a few seconds from a separate laptop McIlrath had set up to stream the after-school meeting to two local students at home who were quarantined because of contact with COVID-19.
The Sterling students were gathered to prepare for the upcoming Virtual Elementary Honor Chorus, for which they will each record their own performances that will be blended with those of 100 students across the state.
“It’s a learning experience for them,” said McIlrath, music teacher at Sterling Elementary. “They are going to make a recording of themselves singing a solo. And then they will send it to a stranger who puts it together into a beautiful virtual choir.”
Sterling Elementary, like many schools, has been unable to host in-person events like chorus and musicals this year because of pandemic precautions.
In response, the Georgia Music Educators organized the first Virtual Elementary Honor Chorus, which will include 100 fourth- and fifth-grade students in Georgia.
The students met virtually Saturday to hear from the chorus clinician, Emily Williams Burch.
Nine Glynn County students are participating in the event. They were selected by McIlrath because of their past experience in the school’s music performances.
For the Honor Chorus, the students are also learning about the life of Ella Fitzgerald and will sing two of her songs in one jazzy arrangement, McIlrath said. The virtual meeting Saturday aimed to offer all the technical information they’ll need to create the recordings, which will be edited together and produced as a video for each student to have and share with their schools and families.
“What this meeting’s about today is just for them to have an understanding of what they’re going to be technically,” McIlrath said last week during the after-school gathering. “Technology is the only way that we can sing this year. We don’t have a way to perform other than to stand in front of a camera. And so that’s what we’re doing.”
The students are expected to learn their parts on their own, but McIlrath is supporting them by helping them rehearse and by offering guidance on how to record the video.
She urged them to ask any questions they have during the statewide meeting Saturday and explained how to virtually raise their hand to avoid creating an interruption.
“You want to keep your mic off during the meeting on Saturday. OK, Emma?” McIlrath said, looking toward the laptop screen and the student listening from home. “We’ve loved hearing you sing, but there will be protocols.”
Such are the challenges of offering fine arts programming in the midst of school year affected by the pandemic.
“We’re just going to get through this year, and we’re going to be fine,” McIlrath told the students. “We’re going to be better for it, no doubt, because we’ve learned all this new technology.”
Trent Lawson, a Sterling Elementary student participating in the virtual chorus, said he’s happy to be able to perform.
“We didn’t get to do it any other way this year,” he said.
McIlrath said she hopes the experience is an educational opportunity for the students.
“I’m excited for them to have that experience as elementary students,” she said. “This isn’t something that elementary students get to do normally.”
Students performing in the statewide honor chorus are Lawson, Laurel Denham, Samuel Baker, Chelsea Collins, Abigail Zelinski, Caroline Kinstle, Kylie Davis, Sawyer Taylor and Emmaleigh Ellis.