Art Beat: Singing Virtually

Jun 11, 2020

Chris Ludwa of Kalamazoo College conducting
Credit Rachel Carson

When associate professor Chris Ludwa was asked to teach music to an empty classroom at Kalamazoo College because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he blinked once — and then got creative.

The music director of the K College Singers, the LuxEsto Chamber Choir, and the Kalamazoo Bach Festival, knew there had to be a way to bring his students together and make the choir sing again, virtually.

“When the opportunity to teach online first came, and it was passed down to us that next term you’ll be doing everything from home, my first thought was, 'Absolutely, we’re going to do some kind of choir,'" Ludwa says. “And I hadn’t thought at that point yet what that would look like, what that would be, or how I would manage that.”

The K College Singers perform virtually
Credit Courtesy Chris Ludwa

Learning alongside his students how to teach music when everyone is in different places, Ludwa threw himself into the challenge with enthusiasm. And it was a challenge. With a lot of online scheduling, followed by hours upon hours upon hours of editing, the music began to come together.

“There’s the downside and the upside,” he says. “The downside is that there is nowhere to hide. The upside is that there is nowhere to hide. So, what the students have found is that their personal accountability has gone through the roof. But we are a liberal arts college; they are just singing because they love it. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and musical abilities. Watching them learn, it’s been really fun.”

When Ludwa begins a project with his class, he first records himself conducting a piece of music, then emails that recording to his students. They record their parts of the composition and email it back to him. Ludwa then edits and aligns all of the separate pieces and voices to come together as a virtual choir.

“It’s been fun to watch and listen to them pull this together and really dig deep for the kind of energy it needs,” Ludwa says.

Ludwa oversees 30 faculty artists, 150 college musicians, ten theatre technicians, and more than a hundred volunteers as part of Kalamazoo College’s Bach Festival, and produces nearly 50 performances over two months each summer (except this one, because of COVID-19). Ludwa also directs Kaleidosong, a professional vocal ensemble he founded in 2014 that specializes in a wide range of musical styles such as Palestrina, R&B, jazz, American songbook, and spirituals.

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