Musical groups will be showcased in San Juan College streaming event
Performance was recorded on Nov. 20 on campus
- The event includes performances by the San Juan College Symphonic Band and a music educators ensemble.
- The participating musicians practiced social distancing and engaged in COVID-19 safe practices.
- No audience was present during the event.
FARMINGTON — Professor Teun Fetz and his colleagues on the music faculty at San Juan College spent the better part of the fall semester piecing together a plan by which they and their students could rehearse and execute a series of performances that would not be delivered for live audiences, but that would be streamed online.
They unveiled their plan early in November, with a series of mostly live streaming events scheduled to begin in the middle of that month and continue well into December. But Fetz and his associates watched with trepidation as the COVID-19 infection numbers across New Mexico grew rapidly this fall, and they feared that potential new restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus might derail those plans.
Indeed, that is exactly what happened just a couple of weeks later as state officials issued new restrictions that essentially barred gatherings of more than a few people after Nov. 20. That meant if the San Juan College music department performances were going to take place, they would have to be staged by that date.
"It was kind of like a work situation where you think you've got a couple of weeks to prepare, and your boss says, 'Nope, I need it by Friday or you're done,'" he said.
Fetz and his fellow faculty members responded by scrapping their idea for live performances, aside from a jazz concert that already had been scheduled for Nov. 13, and opted for a series of student showcases that would be performed and recorded over the course of the next seven days. The first show in that series — a performance by the San Juan College Symphonic Band and a music educators ensemble — will be streamed on the college's website or social media platforms at 7 p.m. Dec. 3.
The showcase was recorded by a small crew from the college's media services department on Nov. 20 in the Performance Hall at the Henderson Performing Arts Center, and it features no audience. Other than a brief intermission during which the symphonic band left the stage and the music educators ensemble was setting up in its place, the streamed performances unfold in real time, with no second takes.
"The recording crew really wanted it to be a live-type event," Fetz said, explaining that's exactly how his performers approached it.
Fetz tried his best to make the event as close to the real thing as possible. He turned to the "audience" between pieces to introduce the next segment or the musicians, and even took a bow during appropriate instances, although there was no one present to applaud.
He acknowledged that made him feel self-conscious, even a little bit goofy, but he said it was a necessary charade to maintain the flow of the program. He joked that maybe he should have placed cardboard cutouts of audience members in the seats of the performance hall to make the experience feel a little more typical.
"It was surreal. You're so used to feeding off the energy of the people in the performance hall. And the musicians were all spaced out, so it was difficult for them to hear each other," he said, explaining that the only non-musicians present were the media services people who were shooting the performance from the balcony. " … Whenever I made comments, I had to look directly at the camera as if there was somebody there. It was difficult to play with the same energy level as you would with a live audience."
All things considered, especially given the abbreviated rehearsal schedule, Fetz was very pleased with how things turned out.
"Overall, I think it went really well," he said of the symphonic band program, which features a mix of material ranging from folk songs and movie music and traditional and contemporary symphonic concert band music.
Fetz was just as pleased with the showing by the music educators ensemble, a group of San Juan County instrumental music teachers. Rehearsals with that group were extremely limited, but Fetz counted on their talent and professionalism to get them through. Those musicians did not disappoint, he said.
"We came together over just three rehearsals," he said. "It was a quick thing I wanted to develop, but I'm sure we'll get together and do it again in the future."
Students and teachers alike seemed to revel in the opportunity to be performing again after a prolonged layoff, even if it wasn't for a live audience, Fetz said.
"It was a great experience," he said. "I think it brings the group together as teammates and for camaraderie. … We were able to come together and do music at a time when other people can't. I think that brings us all comfort and enjoyment and, I hope, inner peace."
The experience also gives Fetz and his fellow instructors a template for moving forward if the pandemic drags on for the foreseeable future. He said the past several months have presented a considerable challenge for those who teach music to others, but he said he has a much better idea of how to proceed now than he did last spring.
"Learning is a constant thing when it comes to music," Fetz said. "You're always learning and changing and evolving. This is a great example of how life challenges us to make music."
The fact that both groups rose to the occasion under such difficult circumstances should be a source of satisfaction for everyone involved in the program, he said, but the shared experience of creating something is what really makes it worthwhile.
"It's a solace," Fetz said. "It's something that was really a therapeutic activity for us to come together once a week and rehearse. I think this gave us all peace of mind and a sense of normalcy in a time when nothing's normal."
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.