Artistic Alumni Engagement

Denton Ketels

Imagine scores of Grinnell Singers from across generations coming together to perform major choral works. While the performance would be amazing, it could be a major challenge to schedule rehearsal and concert dates.

But what if individual parts could be recorded by each singer at home? And what if all those parts could be edited together to create collaborative video performances online?

Then it would be the Grinnell Virtual Choir, and that is exactly what John Rommereim, Blanche Johnson Professor of Music, has launched with the help of the College’s Innovation Fund.

The Innovation Fund was established in 2012 by President Raynard S. Kington to support projects with new approaches to teaching and scholarship. It is open to proposals from faculty, staff, and students that foster a learning liberal arts environment conducive to experimentation and imagination.

“The main goal of the Grinnell Virtual Choir is to create an online platform that facilitates choral performances that are connected virtually,” Rommereim says. “It’s a way to engage and connect alumni in an artistic endeavor so they can actually collaborate with current students and with each other.”

A prototype of the virtual choir was produced this spring that shows seven current students performing a movement from Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil. Alumni who want to contribute vocals to the performance can access the score, a conducting video, and tips for recording and submitting files at Grinnell Virtual Choir.

Basically, it’s as simple as making a video of yourself singing into your phone.
“We want it to be fun and inspiring,” Rommereim says. “We’re hoping it will blossom into a significant artistic endeavor.”

Rommereim says he’s considering ways to incentivize participation in the virtual choir, partly because the follow-up project to All-Night Vigil is much more adventurous.

“Our strategy is to do something ambitious, so the second project will be Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium, a 40-voice motet with eight choirs of five voices,” Rommereim says. “Grinnell Singers from the ’90s and 2000s sang in it, so the concept is familiar to them.”

Austin Morris ’15, a mathematics major and Grinnell Singers alumnus, is the talent behind the scenes working to clear technological hurdles and develop website aesthetics. Both Rommereim and Morris say audio and video editing challenges have been considerable.

“Once we get the videos from all the people that we contact, it’s my job to put them all together in the final project,” Morris says.

Faithful to Innovation Fund criteria, the project has a number of teaching and learning goals as well, including using videos to better evaluate the parts of individual singers in the chorus. “As we get better at the technology, using it on a regular basis as a pedagogical device will become more feasible,” Rommereim says.

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