Show must go on for Celtic choir club

Josh Rist leads a music class in a song earlier this year.

Comprehensive distance learning has made it increasingly difficult for teachers to connect with their students. But despite limited class offerings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McNary High choir teacher Josh Rist has found a creative way to provide a new choir club to his students.

Under normal circumstances, choir is a year-long, performance-based class. However, under comprehensive distance learning, choir only lasts for a semester and students are placed in a class based on their grade.

“We needed to find a way to meet together that was voluntary,” Rist said.

In October, Rist formed a choir club that involved students making their own Soundtrap projects online and sharing them with their classmates — Soundtrap is an online cross-platform digital audio workstation that allows users to create music.

Even though the communal experience of a normal choir class is lost, McNary students are still able to create their own musical projects, edit them and share them with other members of the club.

“It’s really not a choir. It’s studio singing. But it’s good practice for them. They get to hear their product and attempt to make it better,” Rist said.

There are currently 40 kids in the club and Rist meets with individual sectional groups (sopranos, altos, tenors, bass) on a daily basis. During meetings, students will regularly discuss music and organize collaborations for self-directed projects.

“It’s been a lot of fun. Kids have been able to learn their part outside of class, then go over with me and provide feedback,” Rist said. “It’s been a learning process the kids have got to experience with each other. Kids have been getting better and better through the process.”

Last month, the club created their own rendition of The Hymn of Acxiom by Vienna Teng. Although they couldn’t be together in-person, the students used Soundtrap to sing and layer each section of the song to make it sound like they were singing together — the song can be found on YouTube.

Even though Rist was proud of the final product, he admitted that it was a little heartbreaking that he couldn’t share with his students’ joy in-person.

“It was beautiful but bittersweet. I miss the kids and I miss the classroom. It used to feel like this every day,” Rist said. “They were going on and on about how cool this was and that they were proud of what they had created.”

Even though Rist wishes he could see his students in-person, he is excited for future projects that the club will come up with.

“I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to meet. It stinks for the seniors that this is their final experience with choir, but they are still putting their stamp on the program,” Rist said.