Parking Garage 2 echoed with the sound of music on a recent fall afternoon, as members of the Wind Orchestra ran through the uplifting Shaker traditional “Simple Gifts,” an iconic melody featured in Aaron Copland’s ode to Americana, “Appalachian Spring.”
Yes, you read that right: Parking Garage 2 — level 3 to be exact.
About 20 musicians, a cross-section of the larger ensemble, sat masked and well apart from each other and their conductor on folding chairs on the concrete deck. Their al fresco afternoon rehearsals throughout the fall semester were indeed a simple gift to those working or walking nearby, a moment of uplift carried on breezes that cut through the garage’s open tiers. To the student musicians, the outdoor classroom presented an opportunity to continue learning within pandemic restrictions aimed at containing the airborne coronavirus. Playing many of the traditional wind instruments, after all, obviously involves exhaling breath; masks are slit just enough to fit mouthpieces.
“The parking garage is one of the ways we’ve found alternate rehearsal space, and it’s actually working out well,” said Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki, director of the Bower School of Music & the Arts. “Students are taking very well to it. Being outside helps. There’s plenty of moving air, so it’s much better than rehearsing inside at this time. We will finish the school year working that way. We are focusing on students perfecting their repertoire as opposed to performing.”
With about 40 musicians total, the Wind Ensemble’s size precludes full, public concerts for the time being. For smaller ensembles, soloists and guest recitalists, the Bower School has turned to virtual concerts, teaming up with a professional videographer and WGCU Public Media to produce performances that viewers can stream online on demand. The upside? A wider potential audience than would be possible in the Music Building’s recital hall — worldwide, even.
The first of the Bower School’s recorded concerts is now available at WGCU.org, and more are planned throughout the academic year. To ensure high production values, the school hired Raniero Tazzi, a Naples videographer and musician who specializes in recording fine arts performances. Multiple cameras are employed, premium sound equipment is used and editing adds polish to the final product. The only thing missing? Applause.
“It’s been a big learning curve,” Biernacki admitted. “We have had to figure out how to use different technology to present and record our concerts. We’re anticipating doing more. It all depends on how they turn out.”
The first trial run was an Oct. 4 faculty recital in U. Tobe Hall by violinist Kyle Szabo and pianist Michael Baron, as part of Bower’s annual Nisita Concert Series. The program featured Beethoven and Mozart works, among others. The school’s partnership with FGCU’s resident public media provider has been especially helpful because WGCU is already licensed to broadcast and stream music through multiple publishing agencies that protect composers’ copyrights. The collaboration was long overdue, according to Biernacki, and sped up by the changes wrought by the coronavirus.
“The last six months have changed how we do things,” he said. “If we don’t embrace virtual delivery, we literally will perish.”
Check out the Bower School website regularly for more programs on the way, as FGCU innovates ways to uphold its role as a cultural resource for Southwest Florida while fulfilling its primary mission to educate. In a typical year, the Bower School presents more than 150 local and visiting arts events, spanning music, art and theatre. Some artists have canceled due to travel obstacles. Previous FGCU360.com stories have spotlighted efforts by The FGCU Art Galleries and TheatreLab to adapt traditional activities during the pandemic.
“There’s plenty of opportunity for adjustment and growth,” Biernacki said. “We will come out of this and come out better because of this. We are changing our approaches to maintain students’ interest so they continue to stay enrolled. In the arts, students are especially passionate about we do. They will create no matter what it takes.”
In that spirit, aspiring artistes are rehearsing in smaller groups, for shorter time periods, and learning one on one with instructors via Zoom. Music-performance majors preparing for senior recitals, a traditional rite of passage to graduation, will be able to invite up to 35 students and faculty members to their live performance – but unfortunately not family members, due to campus COVID restrictions. Seniors will, however, be provided recordings of their moment in the spotlight.
“It’s quite a challenging time, but our music students have responded very well,” Biernacki said. “Morale among student has been terrific.”