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John Lacko/Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

It may seem like a conductor's job is to spend all their time rehearsing musicians and conducting concerts, but according to Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra resident conductor Daniel Brier, that's only 10% of the work. The other 90% is studying and interpreting the scores. So when the COVID-19 crisis prevented Brier from conducting, he found new ways to be productive.


Choral conductor Nick Sienkiewicz graduated in April from Western Michigan University with degrees in music and biochemistry. He also helmed the Unitarian Universalist Community Church choir and was working with the Kalamazoo Children's Chorus. But the pandemic changed all that. In an interview with Cara Lieurance, Sienkiewicz shares his science-oriented perspective on how choral activity was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and why it's important to use current research to find ways to continue singing. 

Sienkiewicz summarizes some of the recent developments in our understanding of the transmission of the virus, and vaccine development. He says that even with his background in biochemistry, it's still a challenge to read and absorb the latest research published in different science journals. That contributes to laypeople's confusion about COVID-19. It doesn't help that official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control  is being contradicted, questioned and even changed by the current administration. But, he says, the efforts of scientists working around the clock to combat COVID-19 is a beacon of hope.

Sienkiewicz will attend Indiana University-Bloomington this fall to pursue a Master's degree in Choral Conducting.


Ad Astra Music Festival

Austin McWilliams had recently earned his master's degree in choral conducting from Western Michigan University and was working for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra when COVID-19 abruptly ended all musical activity within a few days. In a conversation with Cara Lieurance, McWilliams remembers getting the news that other schools were shutting rehearsals down, and after one final choral rehearsal, so were his. It was quite a blow. The much-anticipated performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion was going to bring together hundreds professional and student performers just before Easter for a work which hadn't been presented in decades. 


Marissa Harrington, Artistic Director of Face Off Theatre Company, says the group, which was founded in 2015 to focus on stories of the Black experience, has been more active than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic - and during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Carl Doubleday is an organist and organizer of the Milwood Series, held at Milwood United Methodist Church of Kalamazoo. He's also known to many generations of students who attended the Western Michigan University School of Music, where he retired as associate director in 2010 after four decades. 

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