by Jackson Renfro ’24 (he/him/his), Staff Writer

Davidson Chorale practices in octets at staggered times. Amelia Andreano ’21 sings with her octet. Photo by Sarah Woods ’21

The chirp of the cicada replaces the silence of the performance hall, and the lone bird tries to match pitch as the voices of members of the Davidson Chorale rise freely into the late-September air. For Roman Fenner ‘22, vice president of the Chorale Council, this was not the semester he had envisioned: rehearsals have been cut to twice a week, outside in groups of just eight, masks required, spread six feet apart. 

“In a normal year,” Fenner said, “we’re typically around 55 people; we’re a really big group. And for a lot of us, this is our main community and livelihood on campus, the core of our Davidson experience. Usually in a regular semester, we go to Chorale every day from five to six, so it’s a routine part of our time, no different from going to class or going to sports practice.” 

One of the main concerns that Chorale had when deciding whether it could resume rehearsals in the fall was the fact that singing is considered to be a “super-spreader” activity. Following a choir rehearsal in Washington that made national headlines back in the beginning of March, in which one symptomatic person infected 87 percent of the group with COVID-19, it became clear that choir was one of the riskiest activities. 

For Davidson Chorale students, it was unclear if they would even be permitted to rehearse at all until the pandemic was over. 

Jacquelyn Culpepper, a voice instructor here at Davidson, noted that the college is being very conservative in their approach to handling the virus in regards to music. “They have taken the high road to protect everyone,” she shared.

In accordance with the guidelines released over the summer by the American Choral Directors Association, the college decided to allow students to resume rehearsals this semester. However, both students and directors are severely limited in what they are able to do, inevitably leading to frustration and an increased sense of isolation. 

Initially sharing these emotions, Culpepper says that now we must “focus on all the things we can do.” She urged, “Let’s rejoice in the fact that the college is keeping us safe. Even though I’m outside and teaching with a mask on, I’m able to see [my students’] physical presence, and we’re still able to make music.” 

Fortunately, there have been silver linings. The new environment has offered students countless opportunities to be creative in their approach towards making music. Dr. Steven Knell, the interim director, is “absolutely thrilled with how things are going.” Because students are now only surrounded by one other person singing their part, he reflected, “they are learning vocal independence. You are no longer able to be invisible—you must know your part.” And for many students, like Fenner, music has been their outlet during the pandemic. He claims that “now more than ever, just having the opportunity to contribute to something artistically is so important.” 

There have been obstacles, but “we’ve just had to laugh,” said Culpepper. “We’ve had some really funny incidents of trying to teach a lesson when, all of a sudden, the cicadas start to sing with us,” she observed. “They are so loud that we just get tickled! And then it will be quiet for a little while, and we’ll be able to hear each other again. And then before we know it, every lawnmower on campus seems to be where we are!” 

This year is all about adapting. Obstacles are inevitable, but the Davidson Chorale has learned to take it day-by-day, facing challenges head-on, but not getting defeated when things don’t go as planned. “We’re just glad to be able to do what we can,” Fenner said. “I think just having the routine of being in the rehearsal process and seeing familiar faces, that’s the most we’re getting out of it right now, but I think that’s enough.” 

Jackson Renfro ‘24 (he/him) is an intended history major from Fayetteville, AR. He can be reached for comment at jarenfro@davidson.edu.