Outdoor Spaces Keep Live Music on Campus

If music seemed to be literally in the air at Rivers throughout the fall, that was no illusion. With strict protocols in place on indoor gatherings and music performance, students and music faculty at Rivers took to the great outdoors. Rehearsals and lessons proceeded under the tents or simply out in the open air.
“I look at the weather report with much more interest these days,” says Dan Shaud, who, as Conservatory Program coordinator, helps oversee the complicated task of deciding who’s going to be where during any given time slot. 

Even under tents or outdoors, guidelines put strict caps on how close together instrumentalists can be, and what direction they can face. That’s a challenge from a music perspective, says Shaud—both because of the physics behind the speed that sound travels, and because the distance impedes the psychological aspects of, say, an orchestra playing in unison. “It’s hard to feel things together, to feel that emotional connection,” he says. 

Nonetheless, students and faculty are happy to have the chance to play together and perform in person, when most (if not all) local music schools have been forced to take their offerings online. “Overall, the students have been happy, and in some ways we feel more integrated into the community,” says Shaud. “There’s a certain buzz around playing in the tent.” 

The landscape of live music performance and rehearsal is a rapidly changing one. Recently, the open-air tents were replaced with heated ones—which should help extend the season. Choruses are now rehearsing, safely distanced, in the parking garage under The Revers Center. And recently, notes Shaud, the state has loosened guidelines and some wind players are permitted to play inside, with the proper equipment, including masks with flap openings, instrument “bell covers,” and instrument bags. 

Music department faculty members have adapted to the new parameters, in some cases finding opportunity in crisis. Zoe Iacovelli, who teaches musical theater, says she’s “extremely grateful” to be able to teach music outdoors. “Although it is not ideal,” she says, “there is something about creating music outside that is really encouraging.” 

Iacovelli says she was initially concerned that students might be shy about performing outdoors, in a relatively public space. “But I was wrong,” she says. “It has helped my students become more confident and brave to sing in front of a constantly rotating audience. It’s a joy to see other students hearing the music and singing along, and it helps the kids feel more comfortable performing in front of their peers. I think the students are just as grateful to be singing in person as I am to be teaching them.” 

Philippe Crettien, director of the jazz program, goes even further. “The joy of making live music overrides the challenges of outdoor playing. I want to continue as long as we can,” he says. “Adapting to circumstances is a great quality in life, and all the students are rising to the challenge. This is a blessing in disguise.”