'A time capsule for the pandemic'

·5 min read

The Westman Youth Choir has created a special series of music videos just in time for the holiday season.

Bringing the music videos to life took careful planning and an ability to adapt to changing circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Westman Youth Choir conductor Michelle Chyzyk.

“Everything that had traditionally been done for 41 years was mostly gone, and we had to think of a new way to make a special musical experience for these teenagers.”

Twenty-nine youth participated in the choir, united in the hope others who see the videos will feel inspired by the work.

As the Westman Youth Choir committee was looking to plan performances for the fall of 2021, they felt confident a typical format for performances would not work, forcing them to pivot.

In a typical year, the choir spends two weeks at Camp Wannakumbac in Onanole. After their time at the camp, the choir typically participates in a four-day tour around small communities, wrapping up with a large public concert in Brandon, but this was not possible during the global health crisis.

“We decided to make a very abbreviated schedule and try to make something special happen for these teenagers,” Chyzyk said.

Despite the adversity they faced, the committee’s goal was to create a well-rounded and artistic experience for students who participated in the five musical video numbers.

Vaccinations were required to participate in the choir, and students from the 2020 cohort were invited to sing because they missed out on performances during the pandemic.

Students were masked and distanced during indoor rehearsals.

“There were a lot of challenges,” Chyzyk said. “It was interesting because you were choosing music before you had met a lot of the singers. I wanted to make sure that we had music that was accessible, not too difficult because our time was very short, and we also wanted to have music that was meaningful because right now, there is a lot of topics to address. We wanted to have music that had meaning for the kids and try to provide as much variety as possible.”

The choir was a smaller group than usual and included some students who had graduated high school.

Choir rehearsals took place in person and the first official meeting was in the Virden Baptist Church sanctuary.

From there, they jumped right into the music, Chyzyk said. The production process took place over four days.

“The group was very focused in rehearsal and we just accomplished a tremendous amount,” Chyzyk said. “The pace was frantic. We weren’t able to polish to the utmost degree and yet that didn’t seem to be important. What was important was doing something, and the enjoyment of the whole process was evident in the kids’ smiles.”

The choir rehearsed for two days and the following weekend they began recording audio and the videos.

One of the key goals of the songs was to address the languishing mental health many in the community have been experiencing during the pandemic.

It was critical to talk about mental health, Chyzyk said, because as a teacher, she has seen firsthand the impacts the global health crisis has had on students and their well-being.

It has been heartbreaking to see their confidence diminishing and the loss of joy in their lives.

“It was really important to do something.”

It was a rewarding experience seeing the energy students brought to the stage during a time of great adversity.

Chyzyk said the choir members are proud because they were able to move forward on the project during challenging times.

She noted for many, the music videos were the first performances students have been able to participate in since 2019.

It has been a challenging time during the pandemic because students have had limited opportunities to participate in music programs, and many lost the opportunity to even learn about music.

Chyzyk said she is grateful because in Virden, they were able to sing while wearing masks and do a variety of different things to keep the harmony in sync during the heightened public health measures.

“The kids were absolutely starved for this experience, and it was just absolutely crucial to give them that.”

Young people can be a little nervous about how they appear on camera and it can take layered coaching to get them ready for a video or stage performance. They had very little time to coach this year but are proud of how they moved ahead.

She praised videographer Rob Lovatt of Keywest Photo by Design for documenting the experience — he found a way to capture unique memories for students.

While the videos were an exciting experience, Chyzyk said, she expects the performances will stand alone as something created out of necessity during COVID-19 and a way to perform without having a large audience.

“Always there’s going to be innovation and imagination and those kinds of things. But this might be just a little bit of a time capsule for the pandemic,” Chyzyk said.

The final video set to be released is a documentary tying together the students’ experiences based on their own words. The video will weave together the five music videos created, along with dialogue about their creations, mental health, the pandemic and overall wellness.

“We spoke about anxiety a little bit and fear. They spoke about gratitude, that was an important lesson … they spoke about appreciation for the health-care workers and many different topics,” Chyzyk said. “It was just good to voice our feelings and to hopefully inspire others — this group of students was very, very hard working and focused. They were a really clever group and just a joy to work with.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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