The coronavirus pandemic will not silence Verdigris Ensemble. With determination, hope and safety protocols in place, the Dallas choral ensemble announced its 2020-2021 season.
“We have not done even five percent of what choral music can do and these times are wonderful because they force innovation, they force you to think outside of the box and they force you to attack issues that you had before head-on,” Sam Brukhman, Verdigris Ensemble’s Artistic Director, said. “We shouldn’t be viewing the pandemic as something really difficult. We should be viewing it as a window of opportunity.”
Before announcing a season, Brukhman had to contend with the realities of singing during this pandemic. Epidemiologists warn singing in a group can easily spread the coronavirus. In March, 60 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale in Washington state attended a rehearsal. Fifty-three of the singers fell ill with the coronavirus and two people died.
Brukhman has been following research developments and medical recommendations to determine how to plan a season and keep the audience and singers safe. “Is it safe to sing in a closed space with 16 singers onstage? No, and it won’t be for a while,” Brukhman said. “Is it safe for one or two people outside socially distanced in a large space like Strauss Square (at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas) to sing? Yes, I do think it is. If we take the right precautions and we space out people and we space out the singers and it is an outdoor space and it is masked, we can minimize our exposure to each other to almost zero. For the next six months, that’s what we’re going to do."
Singers will be wearing masks designed for singing. “You kind of look like a duck when you sing in them,” Brukhman said. “By and large, it actually doesn’t affect the voice. You hear less upper partials in the overtone series with wearing a mask in an acoustic space, but we don’t have an acoustic space.”
Because the concerts feature a lot of solo work, the choral ensemble is not currently having group rehearsals. If any collaborative rehearsals are needed, it will be done online. “What we’re doing here is we’re combining it with a sound check right before the event, letting the air clear and proceeding with the event,” Brukhman said. The ensemble will allow the air to clear for at least an hour, 30 minutes more than recommended.
In its press release announcing the season, Verdigris Ensemble did not mention where several events will take place. Brukhman explained the ensemble has reserved numerous locations and has a plan to move events online if necessary. Where Dallas is in the pandemic will determine the location of the season’s events. “We’re taking it day-by-day,” Brukhman said. “It’s like save the date and we’ll tell you more details as we get closer.”
The development of the season’s theme, “How to Go On”, comes from a personal place. In May, Brukhman’s grandmother died. She was the only other musician in his family and she wholeheartedly supported his career. On the drive to her home in New York City, Brukhman struggled to process the loss, the pandemic, and the impact it was having on his life. “I’ll be honest, I started questioning what am I doing with my life, what am I doing here, how I get out of this place and how do I continue to make a meaningful life that I’m happy with and that I’m not suffering in? I kept asking myself how do I move on? How do I move forward?” Brukhman said.
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He decided if he was asking those questions, others must be too. “What I decided to do is create a season that is going to be a guide about how we go on in the face of the hardships happening in our country, whether that is the election, whether that is Black Lives Matter, whether that is the pandemic, whether that is personal loss through the pandemic,” Brukhman said.
“Life in Our Time” on October 16, 17 and 18 features Verdigris Ensemble soloists singing personally designed programs that share the isolation, uncertainty, and hope they experience as artists amidst the pandemic.
On Saturdays in December, Verdigris Ensemble will present their festive touring series, “Drink & Sing,” on the patios of local breweries. Verdigris singers will safely gather music lovers and beer enthusiasts from around DFW for a night of musical jollity and holiday cheer.
On January 28, 29, and 30, Verdigris returns to AT&T Performing Arts Center's Elevator Project to perform the Texas premiere of David Lang's major work, the national anthems, in collaboration with the Julius Quartet. In the national anthems, David Lang brings together excerpts of every national anthem to form a sweeping picture of the common human hopes that underpin national identity and ambition.
On April 8, 9 and 10, Verdigris Ensemble will reflect on grief and recovery in the program “How to Go On.” Brukhman brings together two major works from living composers, Dale Trumbore’s secular requiem, How to Go On, and Chris Cerrone’s work for vocalists and orchestra, The Branch Will Not Break. Trumbore’s requiem weaves together the words of three poets, Barbara Crooker, Laura Foley, and Amy Fleury to explore the darkness and possible catharsis of loss. Cerrone integrates the words of poet James Wright with a striking orchestral backdrop to explore the question of how one can take a step forward even as their world has crumbled.
This season has a higher calling. “This is a season where we have a conscious conversation with the audience about how we ostensibly move forward during a time where everything that is bombarding our Facebook feeds and our lives is tremendously difficult,” Brukhman said. “We have the ability to heal and we have to do it.”
Learn more: https://www.verdigrismusic.org/