Student sings in choir by Trinity chapel
Close to Normal: Choir
In a world of masks and mute buttons, nothing stifles our sound
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

In 2020, the students and professors in Trinity’s classrooms are as close as they’ve ever been.

Not physically, for obvious reasons. A global pandemic has de-densified campus, spreading students six feet apart—and beyond, as parts of campus operate remotely—and pushing classrooms into new digital spaces.

But the strongest ties still connecting Tigers are the ones at the heart of the University: those formed in the classroom. Each of our classes has become its own community. We’ll show you why class—of all things—is the new highlight of everyone’s week: because it’s just about the closest thing to “normal” we can all get right now.

Students sing in choir while distanced 15 feet apart

Breathing Room

We’ve all spent months avoiding the air from other people’s lungs. 

Fortunately for Gary Seighman, director of choral activities at Trinity, voices can travel further than six feet.

Meet Trinity’s 2020 choral ensembles: Split into two sections of about 30 Tigers each, the choirs go through one of the most rigorous and challenging routines on campus to be able to meet in person. These ensembles rehearse in a parking lot and sing while masked up, each positioned 15 feet apart. They spread out over an area that Seighman says feels like “half a football field.” 

These precautions come after careful research and preparation from Seighman, who could make a strong case for having earned an honorary degree in physics and public health just for figuring out how to make this type of class work.

“It’s like putting a plane together in midair,” Seighman says. “Just to figure out how we were going to sing together in person, I had to put on my science hat, to understand things like air exchange rates or the effects masks have on aerosol activity during singing.”

But when voices start ringing out and harmonies stack, no matter how faint, Seighman says it’s all worth the trouble.

“Students need to be part of something like this, spiritually and emotionally,” he says. “Even 100 feet apart, singing brings us together.”

Collage of choral students singing outdoors

Corrinne Tallman ’24, a soprano from Fort Collins, Colorado, says singing is meant to be a shared experience, right down to the wacky vocal outdoor warmups the class performs before practicing.

“We look silly, because we’re this group of people making weird sounds—half of campus is probably wondering ‘What is going on over there?’” Tallman says.

Saniya Cole ’24, an opera-loving soprano from Richmond, Texas, says the group also sounds strange because it’s spaced out so far. “It’s hard to hear everybody else—it doesn’t sound like a choir outside, but when I see everyone singing and looking at the music, it feels like a choir.”

And that choir, Tallman says, has felt more like a community this semester than she expected.

“That’s one of the wonderful things about music—you have something in common with everyone in your class. I’ve bonded far more quickly with this choir than any other in my life, even though we’re so much farther apart physically. This struggle has brought us together as people,” Tallman says.  “I don’t feel complete without music. When social distancing started, it was devastating. It felt like a piece of me had been taken away. But when we sing here, it feels like everything is right in the world. When you sing with people in a choir, your heartbeats sync up.”

Gary Seighman directs choir on the chapel lawn wearing a mask

For Seighman, that type of unity has the potential to make for incredible music. “In my 12 years at the University, I’ve never had a group of first-years that have had this type of kinship. They’ve all had this same experience of loss—losing opportunities, concerts, missing friends. I sensed it even during auditions; there was this energy they had. Drawing from that, we’ll create something beautiful.”

While all these students have experienced loss over the past year, Cole and Tallman are focusing on what they still have left.

“Music has helped me figure out who I am, discover my talents. It’s gotten me through the darkest parts of my life—it’s been there for me,” Cole says. “If I stop singing, I’m afraid I will lose my voice. I want to keep singing so I don’t lose that.”

“I’m treating every rehearsal, every practice, every opportunity to sing as something dear to me,” Tallman adds.

Even if the music in those rehearsals is faint, stifled by masks and distance, Seighman says his students’ voices still carry farther and more powerfully than he imagined was possible.

“Don’t underestimate what our students can achieve. It is hard to go into every rehearsal nowadays as energized as before this all started," Seighman says. “But seeing our students walk in, every day, and give it their all is an inspiration to me.”

Jeremiah Gerlach is the brand journalist for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

You might be interested in