Virtual virtuosos: Chicago a cappella adapts to present its new season online

  • Members of Chicago a cappella photographed before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The vocal ensemble has shifted its 2020-21 season online as a response.

    Members of Chicago a cappella photographed before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The vocal ensemble has shifted its 2020-21 season online as a response. Courtesy of Jennifer Girard

 
 
Updated 10/1/2020 11:43 AM

A smooth leadership transition was expected for Chicago a cappella when Wheaton resident John William Trotter was announced last year as the new artistic director. Trotter, also an associate professor at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, previously served as the 27-year-old vocal ensemble's principal music director since 2015.

But Trotter's plans for the 2020-21 season were thwarted when the coronavirus pandemic forced a near global shutdown of live performing arts. In fact, Trotter had already plotted out a three-season plan with Chicago a cappella founder Jonathan Miller and creative consultant Kathryn Kamp.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We've just released our virtual season plan, and we're prepared to pivot at any point when it becomes permissible -- and if the singers are comfortable," Trotter said.

In the interim, Chicago a cappella has planned a number of online offerings for a $100 season subscription. A few of the season package items include select past performances that will be made available to view on demand, a new podcast called "Bridging the Gap," plus a monthly video series featuring new virtual choral content recorded from the individual homes of ensemble members.

Wheaton College of Music associate professor John William Trotter is the new artistic director of Chicago a cappella. The vocal ensemble has shifted its 2020-21 season online as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wheaton College of Music associate professor John William Trotter is the new artistic director of Chicago a cappella. The vocal ensemble has shifted its 2020-21 season online as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. - Courtesy of Jennifer Girard

"It's a totally different skill set and we've all had to adapt pretty quickly," said Chicago a cappella soprano and Lombard resident Cari Plachy about the intricacies and difficulties of self-taping from home. Plachy added that she had to transform a closet into a makeshift recording studio.

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"What's great about Chicago a cappella is we're really good at adapting," Plachy said. "We're classically trained singers, but we do so many other things and we're lucky that we're a smaller group so we can adapt."

One project that Plachy and Trotter are looking forward to is a virtual fundraising "Cabaret Night 2020" with an online auction set for 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3.

Plachy is also looking forward to working more with Trotter, a Canadian native of Vancouver Island who has also traveled and studied with choral directors around the world.

In March when the severity of COVID-19 was becoming apparent in Europe, Trotter was nearing the end of a teaching sabbatical in England as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge. Trotter had subsequent travel plans to visit Africa and Asia afterward, which all had to be canceled.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Yet Trotter said he took some solace by being in Cambridge. He thought about being in buildings where choral music has survived and been performed through centuries of history.

"One thing I haven't struggled with at all is 'Will choral singing ever return? Will people ever sing together again?'" Trotter said. "It's historically clear for me if there's choral singing after the Black Death and Spanish Flu and so forth, there's going to be choral singing after COVID. Of course the timing is beyond any one's control."

For more information on Chicago a cappella's 2020-21 season, visit chicagoacappella.org.

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