NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ -- When the first notes of a fanfare sounded on Sunday afternoon at Centennial Park, the dreams of scores of people came true. For the first time since the pandemic hit, members of the New Jersey Youth Symphony performed before a live audience!
Among those who celebrated were Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Helen H. Cha-Pyo and Executive Director of Wharton Institute of Performing Arts Peter Gistelinck.
Usually, the orchestra performs in closed concert halls, however, in order to give musicians a chance to perform during the pandemic the company decided to perform outdoors.
The audience was wearing masks while socially distancing. Meanwhile, all performers were spaced out while wearing masks and stands were wiped in between pieces with nothing being shared.
Most rehearsals were held through Zoom with a few outdoor rehearsals being held at the back parking lot of the symphony’s Berkeley Heights location.
The next New Jersey Youth Symphony’s project is #StayHomeAndPlay where musicians will record their solo pieces which will be compiled into a 45 minute digital concert to be sent to assisted living facilities and retirement homes for elderly residents.
Earlier in the week, Cha-Pyo said, “For the past seven months, the pandemic has prevented us from performing together in-person. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to share live music with our community here in New Providence.”
When Gistelinck took over as executive director in July 2019, he said he wanted to make teaching and performing online one of the institute’s strategic goals. When the pandemic forced the end of in-person teaching, “we revamped all our programs” so they could be taught online and “we moved forward. We have done that pretty successfully,” he said during a recent phone interview.
Cha-Pyo said one of the challenges facing performing arts organizations is that “technology won’t allow for us to perform at the same time.” To meet that challenge, Wharton put up a 30 x 60 foot tent in its parking lot in Berkeley Heights so the small ensembles could rehearse. The tent is large enough so even with social distancing, ‘we can fit up to 35 students in there,” said Cha-Pyo. “It’s worked out great … The tent is completely open,” there are no sides. Each of the ensembles can rehearse one hour at a time. Putting up the tent meant more than 100 students were able to rehearse in small ensembles, she said.
Gistelinck said they used the tent two to three times a week.
Cha-Pyo conceded there were challenges, ”It was a bit cold at night when the clarinet ensemble was rehearsing … and we (had to) put clip-on lights on stands,” so the musicians could see their music.
The students in the Youth Symphony are “quite advanced” and they made “great progress,” she said. “We consider our young musicians to be messengers of hope through the gift of music.” The next logical step in the process was to bring that gift of music and hope to others through an “outdoor concert at a public space, and Centennial Park,” in New Providence, where the NJ youth Symphony has its headquarters, was the perfect place, said Cha-Pyo. She predicted the concert would produce “positive energy we can share with the community.”
Both she and Gistelinck emphasized the safety precautions which have been taken to protect the health of the students.”We follow the CDC Guidance and are very, very careful,” he said, adding, “There are hand sanitizers everywhere, wipes and alcohol sprays.”
With cold weather upon us, the tent will be dismantled in November, he said, but first there will be more practices and an official concert video will be compiled.
Cha-Pyo said the concert will be part of #StayHomeAndPlay, a social media movement. The students will practice their solos and record themselves. Their performances will be "merged into a virtual orchestra,” The video will be shared with more than 75 groups, including senior centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other locations with an elderly population. “People need to hear music -- it brings hope and joy” and entertains, she said. “That kind of intergenerational connection is important to our mission.”