The Ragazzi Boys Chorus has sustained itself during the pandemic by altering its teaching methods and expanding into the world of virtual choirs while planning for the future.
When COVID-19 struck the Bay Area, the Redwood City-based chorus – which has members from Los Altos – had little time to respond.
“There was so much going on that you really don’t have time to be thoughtful,” said Kent Jue, Ragazzi’s executive director and artistic director. “You’re just sort of reacting, (making) your best decisions on the fly.”
Jue noted that Ragazzi changed how it taught choral music, cutting down on group rehearsal meeting times and instead focusing more on the individual, by providing more music theory assignments or by creating videos for individual students to follow along with.
“We created videos for different things,” Jue said. “It could be anything from theory method or ear training ... icebreaker games to build communities, to accompaniment tracks that boys could (use to) practice their parts.”
He added that other methods were employed over Zoom, such as chain singing (wherein students take turns singing alone), sight-reading exercises, singing along to a piano while on mute and simply discussing the meaning behind a piece.
While students weren’t able to showcase their work through concerts, they have been through virtual choirs.
“The idea is just perfect for a time like this,” said Talinn Hatti, a Los Altos resident and Ragazzi Concert Group member.
Hatti and three other boys in the group are part of the leadership team, which has been meeting with Jue over Zoom to manage the ensemble during the pandemic.
Amid the quarantine, Ragazzi has uploaded three virtual choir recordings, the most ambitious of which – Mark Burrows’ “We Are the Day” – featured approximately 120 singers.
Hatti said the virtual choirs aren’t the same as singing for a live audience, though.
“A lot of boys were really struggling to look engaged and look happy while they were singing because they were singing to a camera,” he said.
It also took several hours to compile the recordings, meaning that Ragazzi’s members weren’t able to showcase all of their planned musical repertoire.
Not being able to work in a collaborative environment has also been a challenge, but Ragazzi has found some solutions. The use of Soundtrap, a web-based program similar to GarageBand, has allowed students to work collaboratively on larger musical pieces, according to Jue. Soon, he may involve students in the virtual choir compilation process, which would enable virtual recordings to be released at a higher rate next semester.
In response to the difficulties of singing as a group on Zoom, a Ragazzi board member has been working on a new virtual meeting software that would allow 25-50 students to sing at the same time.
“I think that (the board member is) confident that in the fall, we’re going to have something to present to families as an option for some singing together, remotely,” Jue said.
Members of the leadership team, addressing a similar issue, divided themselves up in June to interview five or six new Concert Group members to get to know them better and to familiarize the newcomers with the group.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for Ragazzi, Jue has tried to remain positive.
“We’re still around and alive,” he said, “and we’re (going to) come out of this better than when we started.”