Zooming Through Difficulty: MUS-500 Pushes Onward with Digital Rehearsals

Cathy Cho ’22 sweeps her bow across the string of her violin as Ellie Cho ’23 joins in. Both Cathy Cho and Ellie Cho have recorded videos of their individual parts, which were edited together and played simultaneously to create a video rendition of “Sonata for Two Violins” by composer Sergei Prokofiev for their MUS-500 chamber group performance class. Although the group, featuring Cathy Cho, Ellie Cho, and Audrey Sun ’23 are separated for remote learning, the class takes advantage of digital recordings to rehearse and perform.

MUS-500 meets three times a week, once as a class and twice to rehearse in smaller groups. During full class meetings, Holly Barnes, Instructor in Music, addresses common mistakes made in recordings and offers notes to correct. In small groups, members record their individual parts and cut together a final video. Cathy Cho, Ellie Cho, and Sun will finish with a final product of two videos.

Barnes said, “There are three different chamber music groups that have been formed in the class… At the moment, we are doing a lot of duets as they are easier to put together in a virtual recording. Typically one person will record their part and then send it to their duet partner to practice with. Once each player has a polished recording of their part, we put them together with the help of computer software.”

Sun claims that chamber music in particular is much more difficult digitally because of the importance of listening and being aware of the changes that fellow group members make. As Sun is not able to see her other group members as she plays, she has to be more aware of how her part will later fit into theirs when they put the videos together.

“Listening has always been a big part of chamber music, but I have been even further challenged because I am recording while listening to Cathy’s part, and need to find a way so my sound can complement hers, even through a recording… Because I can’t really see Cathy when I play, I have to be more aware of what she is playing and how my part fits into that,” said Sun.

Ellie Cho had similar thoughts on the impact of virtual recordings and echoed Sun’s sentiments on the importance of being aware of her group members. Even with these challenges, she was surprised at the quality of the piece once the final video was put together.

“I found online chamber really fun and was amazed at the results at the end because I first doubted that playing individually and putting it together would work out. Listening and watching the end product almost gives me a sense of satisfaction, and the idea that we can still play together is really enjoyable,” said Ellie Cho.

According to Cathy Cho, she has enjoyed chamber music because it is a unique experience and a mixture of both fun and experimentation. Additionally, the switch to online classes has provided her with more opportunities to practice the violin.

“I think I’ve definitely improved as a member of a group [and also] as a member of orchestra [and] chamber music… I also think I’ve improved because I constantly listen to my own recordings when I have to send them to my groupmates or teacher. I get to reflect on myself much more and notice all the things I’m doing wrong. It’s much easier to self-reflect and correct right away,” said Cathy Cho.