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Sisler band plays on

Sisler High School’s concert band recently recorded music together, apart.

With its winter concert cancelled due to COVID-19, Sisler’s concert band got creative and recorded a medley of music from the film Frozen, with each player laying down their parts individually and at home.

The unique opportunity was made possible with guidance and funding from the Winnipeg School Division.

“It was really important to try and find a way to keep arts involved and work around the fact that students can’t sing in school or play wind instruments,” said Sofia Costantini, WSD program lead.

“So, how do we create opportunities that are creative in terms of getting everybody to celebrate the work of students?”

“Tim Cox (Acting Director of Enrichment and Science) and I sat down and talked about how we clearly needed to have some form of archived performance, where the schools could celebrate within school, their community, their parents, their families, and also the entire division. So we enlisted DACAPO Productions, which is a professional audio editing company and we used the group from Sisler as a trial run.”

On Nov. 8, Sisler music director Alexis Silver, created learning parts for Music from Frozen using the free music notation software MuseScore. Silver immediately sent the backing tracks to her students on Nov. 9, so they could begin practicing their parts at home.  

“They practiced for pretty much the whole month of November with those backing tracks,” Silver said. “The backing tracks were a guide so the students could play in time when they eventually recorded. Also, in class we did some guided listening and they mimed playing their parts when we were together.”

On Nov. 20, Silver checked in with her students on Google Classroom, just to see who was ready to record and who needed a little more time and guidance. On Nov. 30, the students sent their individual recordings to Silver.

“I had a listening party weekend where I listened to every single recording that was sent and made notes,” Silver said. “On Dec. 2, I sent 25 of the recordings to DACAPO. They said it was going to be a two-week turnaround, but they had it back to me on Dec. 5, which was amazing.”

However, the task of recording a big concert band individually and remotely was not without its challenges.

“There hasn’t been regular in-person wind instrument instruction since March, so for the students who are in Grade 10 who are new to Sisler, students coming from Andrew Mynarski or Isaac Newton, those kids have never played in the band room with me in a real way.”

“We did have to talk about how playing by yourself is not what we signed up for in community music making. The self-pressure for these students can be daunting. They hear themselves making a mistake, which you’d never be able to hear in a 60-piece ensemble, but now they hear it and they’ve recorded it and they don’t want to hit send.”

“We had to do a lot of talking about how we’re human beings and this is a weird time and if you make mistake, it doesn’t matter, send me the recording anyway. There was some beautiful conversations that happened and I’m just so proud of them.”

Silver said a Sisler student is creating a video of wintry images to accompany the audio project, which will be sent home to families and the Fred Douglas Lodge personal care home as part of a recorded winter concert.   

Silver said she’s extremely pleased with the finished product and noted that DACAPO did an excellent job of making the music sound cohesive, but not glossed over.

“It still sounds like a concert band,” Silver said. “It doesn’t sound digitized. It sounds like Sisler High School.”


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