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Classical 101

Behind the Scenes In A Rehearsal With The McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra

color photo of Antoine Clark conducting MACCO in the MAC's Bronwynn Theatre
Jennifer Hambrick/WOSU Public Media
Antoine Clark rehearses the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra for its "Folk Impressions" livestream.

It's the stuff of anxiety dreams – having to play a clarinet in an orchestra while wearing a mask, or to play the flute with an unwieldy apparatus attached to it designed to keep your breath aerosols in check.

But this is no dream. Those are just a couple of the pandemic safety protocols the musicians of Worthington’s McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra (MACCO) have put in place as they rehearse together in-person for their livestream performance this Sunday.  

“The musicians have been resilient in this,” said Antoine Clark, artistic and music director of the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra. “It’s challenging to have to wear a mask (while playing an instrument). And as a conductor, for me, trying to communicate with half my face covered – that’s a challenge.”

The orchestra’s Folk Impressions livestream takes place Sun., Feb. 7 at 3 p.m. on the McConnell Arts Center’s YouTube page. The program features impressionistic works for wind quintet and double wind quintet by Ruth Gipps, André Caplet, William Grant Still, George Enescu and Valerie Coleman.

The musicians will perform the livestream in the McConnell Arts Center’s Bronwynn Theatre with no in-person audience.

As you can see in this video, Clark and the MACCO members are managing to keep performing, even with countless safety protocols in place. 

A transcript of the video is below.

The Bronwynn Theatre’s stage can normally accommodate 35-40 musicians seated shoulder-to-shoulder.

But for rehearsals – and for the livestream itself – orchestra members will be spaced six feet apart onstage. This spacing makes it more difficult for the musicians to hear each other and puts a limit on the number of players in any given performance.

“We had to measure the stage, see how many musicians were possible, and it worked out to about 10 musicians,” said Clark.

Having to reduce the numbers forced Clark to revise MACCO’s entire 2020-21 season. All of the works on the current season feature no more than 10 players.

As awkward as some of the safety protocols have been, they at least enable Clark and the orchestra to come together and make music.

“I do feel that this different climate that we’re in in so many ways, and I do feel like it’s brought us together and made us more appreciative of the music-making that we are afforded,” Clark said.

“I feel like there’s a lot more energy and excitement that we got to come together and play music.


Antoine Clark: We’re preparing for a livestream that’s coming up. We will not have an in-person audience. We’re having to space our musicians six feet apart to keep them safe. Normally the total musicians we use could be up to 35 or 40 musicians. So we had to measure the stage, see how many musicians were possible. And it worked out to be about 10 musicians.

[clarinet warm-ups]

Bob Pfeifer: Practicing now and rehearsing and doing concerts now – it’s been a challenge. The challenges are spacing for the orchestra. We’re further apart than we usually are, so it’s sometimes hard to listen. And this is the second time we’ve played, and I have to play with a mask on, with a little hole in it. So that’s a little difficult. But on the other side, I’d do almost anything to get back on the stage.

[flute warm-ups]

Erin Helgeson Torres: This is a Win-D-Fender. They were actually originally created for marching bands, to stop the air from coming and affecting the way that your sound comes across the flute. But actually, it’s worked really, really well in the middle of a pandemic, because it’s got holes that vent only back up to you, so it stops the explosion of your aerosols. And it sends it back a little bit back on you, in fact. So the circles actually vent back into you. So actually, when I play, I keep my mask on, and then when I’m ready to play (pulls mask down) – play – and then (pulls mask over mouth and nose) pop that right back up. I mean, it’s a lot of apparatus to play, but hey, I get to play.

[orchestra music]

Clark: Sixth bar of four, beat two sforzandos – much more sound, more air on it, please. Not harsh, just weighted. Okay, guys. Let’s take our 20-minute break, okay? Thank you.

Mitchell McCrady: On my horn I have a bell cover that’s specially designed. I can fit my hand in for what I need to do for my playing and tuning. Other precautions, like a mask designed with a flap, and of course, you might notice the pad on the floor to catch any condensation. I’m going to be emptying my horn quite a bit during the concert. That’s just to avoid any future contamination.

[orchestra music]

Clark: The musicians have been resilient in this. It’s challenging having to wear a mask, pull it down, pull it back up. And as a conductor, for me, trying to communicate with half my face covered – that’s a challenge.

[orchestra music]

Clark: The musicians, they are so talented.  All their skills have just heightened. And I love that, because even within this pandemic, the musicians have connected, and were even doing that with our patrons, be it virtually.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.