Upper School Chorus Canceled


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The Upper School Chorus in 2019 performing in the Wrigley Theater.

For the first time in Latin’s history, the Upper School chorus has been canceled due to a lack of student sign-ups. Chorus has been a hit class in the Upper School in years past, but after the COVID-19 pandemic—which is still not completely past us—and a year and a half of remote learning, only three students decided to participate in chorus class this year.

“I think that this is 100% a COVID problem and not just a Latin problem,” said Gabriel Di Gennaro, Vocal Music Director. “Unlike other classes, chorus, band, and many other performing arts are getting hit in such a unique way with COVID-19 limitations, and these limitations are so different from non-performing arts classes. We, the Performing Arts Department, were hit harder, and I think the decay of that challenge is hanging on for us a little bit longer than other classes.”

For the Upper School band class, the number of students enrolled dropped from 45 to 23 this year, another dramatic drop for the Performing Arts Department.

Additionally, Mr. Di Gennaro mentioned that students were likely “burned out” from remote learning in chorus class last year. “The fact that they had to do chorus in a way that wasn’t normal chorus was exhausting, which I agree with, and they want to take this opportunity to do other things,” he said.

He went on to raise other factors that he believes affected the number of sign-ups for chorus, saying, “The fact that chorus is only offered for one block, and the fact that there are a capella groups where students can flex that musical muscle before school makes chorus less attractive.”

Junior Will Baiers, one of the three students to sign up for chorus this year, shared his thoughts on why he believes choir signup numbers were so low. “Last year didn’t give the best impression of chorus and the Arts Department in general,” Will said. “Live performances are always the highlight of the year, and we really missed out on the community aspect of singing.”

Similarly, senior Caroline Cruz, another student who signed up for chorus this year, said, “Last year, we couldn’t sing in person; we were alone in our rooms at home muted on Zoom, singing on our own, and we didn’t know what we were doing.” She explained, “Eventually, when the second semester came, we ended up not having a chorus room, and we had to do asynchronous work while the other half of the class was at home.”

Caroline added that even once school resumed in-person, chorus didn’t always meet synchronously, as half the class was remote. Students enrolled in the class spent lots of time working independently. “It became so draining and so tedious that I would think, why am I here if I’m not performing things that I want to perform and doing the things that I want to do?”

Will said, “It’s extremely disappointing to see chorus shut down, especially considering how this year would look almost back to normal. I was excited for live performances to resume after what seemed like an indefinite hiatus, and chorus was always a great break from the chaos of my day.”

“I remember sitting in class last week,” said Caroline, “and Mr. Di Gennaro was talking about how we would not be coming back. It made me really sad, because I really only had one full year in chorus and it was the best year of my life. I was almost in tears.”

Mr. Di Gennaro shared that the shutdown hasn’t been easy on him, either. “There is still a lot of working through emotions myself,” he said. “I mean, I’m the chorus teacher and I don’t have a chorus. I try not to take things personally, and students have been very kind in sharing their thoughts with me.”

Despite the class’s cancelation, Caroline said she is grateful for Mr. Di Gennaro’s commitment to the chorus. “He is amazing, and he has helped with the chorus’s potential. The other day I let him know, ‘It wasn’t you, it was the pandemic.’”

Nonetheless, Mr. Di Gennaro is continuing to think about the future. “What I’m looking for now is what Latin wants out of vocal music, and I want to provide those opportunities at the best level of excellence possible,” he said. “We have three a capella groups, which is fantastic, so I think that we still have a very healthy vocal music scene despite losing the curricular class this year.”

Mr. Di Gennaro, along with Nick Baer, the Performing Arts Department Chair, and Kristine Von Ogden, Director of the Upper School, have been exploring options for the future of vocal music at Latin.

“We have talked about possibly offering chorus just for the second semester or maybe offering it as a completely different class, like an advanced voice class, where the numbers could be lower,” Mr. Di Gennaro explained. “When you think of chorus, you think of double digits at least, but if we had an advanced class, it could almost be like private voice lessons where students could get private attention and work on small ensemble singing.”

Another potential option that Mr. Di Gennaro discussed was one that would structure vocal courses similarly to the theater and acting classes at Latin. He mentioned that they were considering creating vocal music levels, similar to how many theater classes have beginner, intermediate, and advanced options. He believes that this structure could help attract more students to the vocal program.

However, Mr. Di Gennaro explained that the school is taking the process of figuring out the plan for chorus a week at a time, in accordance with the ever-evolving COVID regulations and protocols.

Caroline said she has faith in chorus’s return, “Chorus will come back and it will rebuild,” she said. “We just have to push forward and keep that grit.”

On a positive note, Mr. Di Gennaro said, “To be honest, my Middle School numbers have never been higher, and I still teach the Upper School music tech class and work with Romanettes and LaTones.” He added, “It’s so nice to still have those connections with the Upper School.”