Tuesday, May 11, 2021
May 11, 2021

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Heritage High School’s choirs find their virtual voices

They’ll perform online Dec. 17 for fundraiser as students rise to challenge

By , Columbian staff writer
2 Photos
Heritage High School's choir performs "Flight Song" by Kim Andre Arnesen in a video posted to YouTube.
Heritage High School's choir performs "Flight Song" by Kim Andre Arnesen in a video posted to YouTube. (Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When it comes to music creativity, Billy Buhl doesn’t stop at subpar.

“It’s go big or go home,” said Buhl, Heritage High School’s choir director.

That means adapting to find ways for the beat to still go on and bring students’ voices together while staying apart.

Like much of 2020, which has seen the arts find unique ways of staying relevant throughout COVID-19, so has Buhl, the school’s first-year director, by developing virtual choir videos of songs sung by his choir students.

Last month, Heritage released “Flight Song” and now is going a step further with their inaugural “A Virtual Choir Fundraiser” concert on Dec. 17. Recordings from Heritage’s five choirs, plus blended choirs featuring feeder elementary and middle schools, will be broadcast across Evergreen Public Schools’ social media channels.

Virtual choir videos might be new for Heritage, but not for Buhl. Back in the spring, Buhl got in on the virtual fun by piecing together a virtual choir video as choir director of Longview’s Mark Morris High. The video gained attention across social media and local news outlets.

As it turns out, it’s also a good way to make a first impression on the 140 choir students at Heritage. Buhl said his goal is to make choir fun, engaging and give students a sense of direction and purpose. Same goes with virtual choirs, by providing a positive musical experience for students, families and the community.

“It’s something I’ve never done before,” he said. “I’m in new territory, but aren’t we all with everything else right now?”

How a virtual choir video comes together takes work. Students record their song portions from home, then send the audio to Buhl. Audio engineering and mixing performed by friends of Buhl brings the voices together in unison.

So far, relationship- and trust-building has come through a screen. Junior Isabella Keller said she got emotional watching her and her choirmates’ first video, and continues to find solace through music.

“With everything going on,” she said, “I just started crying. It felt different. … It’s hard because we can’t all sing together, but we can still get better as singers.”

So far, it’s been a fun learning curve that students have embraced. When COVID-19 shut down schools in March, Heritage’s choirs, too, went silent. So this fall has been a different tune from the spring.

Singing virtually with her classmates has given Grace Sam, also a junior, positivity. She hopes that positivity spreads to others who listen to Heritage’s voices.

“I’m hoping that this will give people more hope and strength to get through the pandemic and hopefully it makes people smile,” she said.