CHURCH HILL — If Volunteer High School’s graduating seniors aren’t able to get together in person one last time to celebrate as a class, choir members and instructor Josh Wenger hope to do the next best thing by saying goodbye with a song.
Wenger has given his students one last project for the 2019-20 school year: to help him create a virtual choir performance of “For Good” from the Broadway musical “Wicked.”
It’s the song Volunteer has used for its graduation ceremony the past few years, and Wenger said one verse in particular expresses what the seniors are experiencing this year: moving forward despite the unknown.
The key verse that the seniors actually “sing as a group” states, “It may well be that we never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part, so much of me is made of what I’ve learned form you. You’ll be with me like a hand printon my heart. And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend.”
A simulated choir performance
For obvious reasons, the choir can’t actually sing as a group. Instead, choir members are recording individual performances and sending them to Wenger, who will edit them into a simulated choir performance.
“We’re not going to do like many people are doing with grid screens,” Wenger said. “Instead, I’m going to mix the audio from the students, and then we’re going to create a picture slide show. I think that better encapsulates the past four years. Students will submit pictures, and they’ll be senior-heavy, obviously, but choir pictures and some will be individuals and small groups. I’ll give them an opportunity to submit pictures for inclusion in the montage.
“I made some master tracks to send out for each (musical) part, and they’ve been practicing with them, and we’ve been having rehearsals on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on Google Hangout. You can’t really sing together over the Internet because of latency and delay, but I have been able to do sectionals where all the students mute their mikes, and they sing whenever they hear me play their part.”
“Give some closure to the students”
Choir members will start submitting recordings soon with the goal of having the song completed and ready for a public release in mid-May.
“The goal was to come up with a project we could do to give some amount of closure, but also something for us to work toward during this time, because you can’t really have choir class over Zoom or any of the video conference platforms,” Wenger said. “We tried to come up with this creative way to be able to express ourselves, but also give some closure to the students.”
Wenger added, “We’re focusing on the seniors, but every grade experienced some losses of opportunity in the choir department this spring. At first we thought about just featuring the seniors, but we decided to let everyone in the choir program send in a recording so they can be a part of it.”
Missing out on the spring concerts and competitions was hard on the choir, especially the seniors, but it’s also been a sad time for Wenger, who has shepherded them, as well as the underclassmen, through their entire high school singing careers.
The Women’s Choir and the Concert Choir qualified for the April 24 Choir All State in Knoxville. Five members missed the April 15-17 Individual All State including junior Olivia Hill, senior Matthew Johnson, sophomore Hunter Walker, senior Grace Roberts, and senior Jarran Ahaz Armstrong, who was selected as an alternate.
It was also a big disappointment to miss a May 7-10 trip to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where 30 students were scheduled to sing in a concert with choirs at Chambersburg High School, which is Wenger’s alma mater.
The final insult was the cancellation of the May 12 Spring Concert.
Saying goodbye to the seniors
“These seniors were freshmen when I started at Volunteer,” Wenger said. “This is the first group of kids that I’ve had for four years in a row, so obviously there are some things that are kind of special about that. This is the first year since I’ve been there that we’ve had two choirs qualify for the All State Choir Festival: the Women’s Choir and the Concert Choir. ‘Devastating’ is the word I would use to describe what happened this spring.”
The Volunteer choir is saying goodbye to 29 seniors, including six who plan on pursuing music in college. They are Jarran Ahaz Armstrong, P. Arrington, Matthew E. Johnson, Hannah Price, Grace Roberts, and Julianna Varner.
Other graduating choir members include Bailey Lorenzo, Alden Baker, Alyssa Barile, Raenah Barton, Nicole Carvagno, Jacob Casebolt, Ashley Counts, Lydia Culbertson, Jade Dinger, Sage Dinger, Jaden-Ann Fraser, Elijah Hatfield, Haley Hernandez, Helena Hernandez, Glyndra Hurley, Meghan Lewis, Levi Owens, Hannah Preston, Amber Robinson, Shaylan Suthland, Lauren Tipton, Abbie Trent, and Briana Wilson.