Arts Programs Remain Resilient at Holy Cross

Kelly Gallagher ‘22

Chief Features Editor 

The abrupt end of the on-campus semester came as a shock to the entire College of the Holy Cross community, yet the arts programs quickly asserted their commitment to adapting their activities. Arts Transcending Borders, the Music Department, and the Department of Theatre and Dance wasted no time in developing creative solutions to the challenges of a semester conducted online. In preserving the spirit of art and creativity, these programs have fostered connections as the Holy Cross community geographically dispersed. 

Even before students had to move off campus, Arts Transcending Borders was already working on alternatives for their spring events. Visual artist Kevork Mourad was scheduled to visit the Cantor Art Gallery on March 12, where he is slated for an installation residency in spring 2021, but ATB adapted the visit into a virtual tour. Unfortunately, ATB had to cancel their upcoming events featuring Las Cafeteras and RUBBERBAND, but the organization is committed to rescheduling these performances for the fall semester. In addition, Yonca Karakilic, Director of ATB, told The Spire in an email that: “Moving large-scale live performance to the virtual realm poses some real logistical challenges, but we are in conversations with this semester’s visiting artists to organize small virtual gatherings with specific classes.” 

When asked about the ways in which ATB’s role at Holy Cross would change or remain the same during the online period, Ms. Karakilic wrote that: “[i]n addition to bringing visiting artists to campus, ATB has also undertaken initiatives to help highlight the creative community on campus, including the semesterly Arts at Holy Cross brochure, and the annual Festival of the Arts at Holy Cross that brings 200+ local high school students to campus for a day of activities with arts faculty and visiting artists. We’re working to take some of that work online now, by featuring content not only from visiting artists but also from the campus creative community. We’re all in this together, and will emerge stronger as a community!” 

As ATB readjusts their semester activities, the organization has also been promoting various opportunities for the campus community to appreciate the arts from home. Chief among these are the Silkroad Home Sessions. The members of the group, though also dispersed, have assembled a series of virtual performances in order to “[bring] music from our home into yours.” These performances are shared live on Instagram or Facebook several times a week at various times. The series was kicked off with a performance by Yo-Yo Ma of “Dvořák – ‘Going Home.’” View the recordings of his and other members’ performances at https://www.silkroad.org/home-sessions.

The Music Department didn’t miss a beat in restructuring their programs. The Department has canceled their concert series but is in the process of discussing rescheduling senior recitals. Fenwick Scholar Matthew Pinder’s “Stations of the Cross,” for example, will be performed, though no date has yet been set. Meanwhile, lesson instructors are continuing private instrumental and vocal lessons online. Similarly, ensemble directors have been employing Zoom in order to continue ensembles such as the College Choir, Chamber Singers, Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, Chamber Music, and Wind Ensemble. 

Each ensemble has taken a different approach to online practices, and Dr. Allegra Martin, Director of College Choirs, communicated with The Spire about the choir’s experimental approach to a “Virtual Choir.” This format, which first emerged about 10 years ago, requires each singer to submit videos of themselves singing their parts. Once everyone’s videos have been approved, the choir’s sound engineer will merge the clips into one video with Dr. Martin conducting. 

The choir is beginning with a short piece, the Tallis Canon, as they test out the new format. They aim to record a longer piece of “My Heart Be Brave,” by Marques Garrett, in several weeks. As Dr. Martin explained: “Garrett’s work is a setting of a sonnet by the poet James Weldon Johnson about having hope in dark times.” Choir member Natasha Rollo ‘23 shared her thoughts on the experience, stating: “I’m really excited to see and hear the final product… It’ll certainly be an interesting but fun experience.” 

For Dr. Martin, the biggest challenge of the Virtual Choir is its asynchronous format. She explained that: “Because of the sound lag on video conferencing, we can’t rehearse together in real time. Often singers rely much more on their ears than instrumentalists. So I made a lot of rehearsal videos that the singers can watch and sing along with to practice. I made different videos for each voice part and each piece. I am also available for one-on-one video coaching.” She concluded that: “The experience of singing together with a group of people is much different than the experience of singing alone in a small room! It requires a lot of imagination and courage, but luckily I know Holy Cross students have that in abundance.” 

As in the case of ATB and the Music Department, the Department of Theatre and Dance had to cancel the majority of their spring performances, including their dance concert and “Bare: A Pop Opera”. The cast of “Bare” had an emotional showcase of their work in Brooks Concert Hall on March 11, the evening Holy Cross announced that the remainder of the semester would be moved online. Because “Richard II” was further along in its production process, it has been rescheduled for Fall 2020. After recording the final rehearsal for the spring semester, the cast will regroup at the start of next semester. 

Professor Scott Malia, Department Chair, explained that: “Any decisions about next year’s productions will depend on ongoing health and safety practices. We are incredibly proud of the work of all of our students, faculty and staff this semester!” 

In this unprecedented situation, it’s difficult to predict what the results of the arts programs’ responses will be. But with all the brainpower, passion, and care put into their solutions, it’s evident that Holy Cross community’s creative, collaborative spirit is unfaltering.  

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