Performance groups find harmony in trying times

Wednesday night rehearsals with his jazz ensembles were held dear to Dr. David Moyer, director of Jazz Studies and full-time professor. But now those are things of the past.

All Moyer can do now is reminisce about sitting in the music room and hearing the colorful, syncopated music travel through his ears and to his heart.

Though it’s not the same as being in-person, the Concert Jazz Band & Choral Ensembles, two performing programs at ECC, can still practice together without being in the same room by using an open-source software.

Moyer said that so much of what Concert Jazz Band does requires its members to interact with one another.

“For musicians, [the shutdown was] particularly difficult because so much of what we do is built on that kind of organic interaction, that human interaction, that you only really get face-to-face with each other,” Moyer said.

Moyer remembers driving to a masterclass when he got the campus-wide email notifying everyone that the college would be shutting down indefinitely for the rest of the spring 2020 semester.

In the days that followed, Moyer said he was stuck wondering how teaching and learning jazz would work if they “weren’t able to interact and improvise in real-time.”

During the summer, one of Moyer’s students stumbled upon and recommended an open-source software called Jamulus that enabled students to perform and interact together in real-time.

“He’s the guy that really figured this out and found out about this,” Moyer said. “He actually built a server in his garage last semester on an old computer and put everything together.”

According to a case study by Volker Fischer, the software uses “narrow band networks like a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or a Cable Modem (CM)” to reduce audio latency and lag times.

“Without getting too technical about it, you can set up your own private server, and the signals don’t have to bounce to wherever Zoom’s server is and then bounce back,” Moyer said.

Adam Gibson, music major, said that the audio quality, lag-times and latencies were dependent on each student’s audio setup. He added that it wasn’t “as good as it is in-person,” but it still worked well with the proper equipment and internet connection.

“It’s not perfect,” Moyer said. “There is latency, but it’s a thousand times better than Zoom’s latency. [With] Zoom’s latency, you can’t even sing happy birthday together with two people.”

Once they got the beta server function, Moyer said he worked with ECC’s Information Technology (IT) department and administration to set up two permanent servers on campus over the summer.

Dr. Joanna Medawar Nachef, director of Choral Activities and full-time music professor for 25 years, said that many students dropped the class once the pandemic hit, but she wasn’t going to quit.

“So many people gave up,” Nachef said. “They did no want to do this. But I didn’t think that was going to be a possibility here. When there is an obstacle, I’m [going to] find the opportunity.”

To rehearse on Zoom, Nachef asked everyone to mute themselves and have them sing along to her playing the piano. She also tried condensing the number of people singing at one time but was met with sound delays.

Another idea she had was gathering recordings from Chorale members and sending them to an editor who then put the recordings together in a “virtual choir,” simulating what the ensemble would have normally sounded like.

Nachef was grateful for Moyer spreading the news about Jamulus, leading the initiative and providing the Chorale with guidelines, instructions, and equipment necessary to make the virtual endeavor a success.

With platforms like Jamulus allowing students to learn and continue doing what they love to do at home, Nachef said that they are given a purpose to get out of bed, get ready and participate in class.

“Because this pandemic has brought so many mental health issues on so many of us that if we don’t have that purpose, we just feel like ‘I don’t want to do anything,” Nachef said.

Madison Bonillo, a music major and a member of Chorale for the past two years, felt frustrations when technical difficulties stood in the way of their rehearsals but were in awe when hearing everyone sing in harmony.

“It’s so amazing when [my setup] does work because there is something about hearing those harmonies together, in a choir that you’ve heard your whole life, that brings some sort of relief and peace to yourself,” Bonillo said.

Because of Jamulus, Bonillo said that she is able to concentrate on the music more and has gained more confidence in her singing.

“It puts a level of responsibility on yourself because you’re part of a team, a group,” Bonillo said. “You need to work together and not ride on the tail of someone else.”

Although Moyer feels that there is no substitute for performing live music together, he said that Jamulus is a great tool for students to use in the meantime for rehearsals and private lessons.

“The fact that we are able to look at each other via Zoom, and hear each other via Jamulus, and actually interact musically without that crazy, kind of ‘Happy Birthday in 10 different places’ thing that Zoom does, is pretty amazing,” Moyer said.