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Omnia Sol brings Niwot singers together-from a distance


Courtesy Photo

More than 80 singers from the Niwot community participated in the virtual choir performance of Omnia Sol (Let your heart be staid).

Staging a multi-part choral performance featuring seven dozen voices is challenging even under normal circumstances, but add in online learning, social distancing, and a novice video editor, and things become even more complicated. That was the task facing Niwot High choir director Laura Roberts as she worked to give her students a final chance "on the stage" in a virtual choir performance of Omnia Sol. But as she soon learned, just because something is "virtual," doesn't mean it won't take a lot of work.

"I never officially timed it, but it had to take a good 200 hours, from making the rehearsal tracks to the final cut," Walters said of the stirring 5 minute 30 video, featuring more than 80 Niwot students, staff, and alumni. "It was well worth it. I miss making music with my students in person, and this was definitely a super, super special thing to do."

But, as Walters concedes, it was far from an easy thing to do, from either side of the screen. That much had been promised in the research she started almost as soon as the lockdown went into effect. First, she had to teach Omnia Sol to most of her students. While singers from the Chamber Singers and Evenstar choirs were familiar with the contemporary composition-they were slated to perform it at a concert scheduled for March 17-students in her non-auditioned groups had to learn it on their own, or, more often, with an audience of parents and siblings also trying to work from home. Then came the recording, another potential obstacle for the shy performer.

"They were isolated in their rooms or basements or wherever and didn't want to sing where their family could overhear them," Walters said. "I had them record the audio and video separately so they could focus on the singing portion for the audio one and not focus on being seen."

Then she had to mix the 150+ files, after first teaching herself to use the relevant software, GarageBand and Adobe Premiere Pro. That took up the bulk of her 200-hour investment, but paid off with a new set of useful skills, which she will put to use in professional development courses for the district next year.

"Learning all the technical stuff and figuring out all the software programs was definitely the most challenging part, but it was also fun in a way," she said. "I use technology decently well, but there was definitely a learning curve on how to use the editing software. But it was kind of like a puzzle. I absolutely love puzzles, but no puzzle I've ever done has ever brought me so much joy."

According to Walters, a final chance to perform for an audience also brought out the best in her singers, especially the seniors in the Chamber Singers and Evenstar groups.

"They were super excited that we were doing this project. They were just thrilled to get some final performance with their classmates, many of whom they'd been singing with for four years."

Before releasing the video on May 22, Walters had one final step to complete-sharing it with the internationally renowned composer of Omnia Sol, Z. Randall Stroope, who received his Master of Music degree at CU-Boulder, and taught music in Littleton and Englewood for about a decade. He is now a professor at Oklahoma State University and often tours as a conductor. Responding to the Niwot choir performance of his song, Stroope wrote the following:

"As I looked down the various rows of these dedicated faces, it brought a smile to my face; as I listened to the beautiful voices-from the beginning section with the young men and then when the trebles joined-it would have warmed even the coldest of hearts. I was reminded of the spirit of people in Colorado."

Though Walters was thrilled with the outcome of the virtual choir she said, ultimately, working with her students at a distance was "emotional," and every bit as challenging as the technical aspects of the video.

"Seeing my students sign and hearing their voices was bittersweet," she said. "Because as cool and amazing as this project is, and as happy as I am with it, I would have much rather done this with an in-person performance."

Courtesy Photo

Unfortunately, it could be awhile before Walters and her students will get a chance to stage an in-person performance. As health guidelines and education requirements continue to evolve in the face of the pandemic, face-to-face teaching at St. Vrain Valley Schools is still in question for the upcoming fall semester, and choir is likely to be one of the classes continuing with the remote model.

"It's this weird unknown right now, so it's hard to look at the fall and know what's going on," Walters said. "With performance-based classes, where we work towards the performance, not having that rehearsal time is going to make that look different, for sure. All of us music teachers are trying to figure out ways so if it's different, we can still have music be super important, and relevant, and make performance opportunities happen in the traditional sense."


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