A music postcard to MIT graduates

On Feb. 11, I got a call from MIT executive director for Institute events and protocol Gayle Gallagher. President Reif recently announced that MIT will also continue to launch online-and to open the ceremony, we need some inspiring music that will inspire innovation as we begin to emerge from the pandemic.

After nearly a year away from social teaching, learning, and living, I envisioned music not only reflecting the losses and challenges we faced but also embracing the optimism of how we could come back from darkness as a better and more considerate society. Involving many music students and highlighting MIT’s iconic campus quickly became a priority. And the closeness of the voice is necessary.

But what can be done, given MIT’s covid protocols? With a few exceptions, students are not allowed to play or sing together in the same spaces. And who – at short notice – can produce a composition with such a specific purpose, and for the unusual combined force of orchestral, wind ensemble, jazz ensemble, Senegalese drum ensemble, and many more choirs? We need a composer with the technical and professional chops to address such a daunting task — and the heart and people to know why it is necessary for the present hour.

I knew right away that Tony Award-winning alumnus Jamshied Sharifi ’83, with his long history of working with MIT students and his willingness to take on multiple projects, is the same man for the job. There is always a high demand – even during the pandemic – as an arranger, producer, and composer for Broadway, film, and artists of many genres, he agrees to do it right away.

Since this project will involve singers, unlike the instrumental collaborations we have done over the years, we knew we had to find a suitable text. At Gayle’s suggestion, I contacted MIT poet Erica Funkhouser, who was compiling some new poetry from her students about the pandemic. And once Jamshied read it, his vision became clear. “Emotional openness, simplicity, and, sometimes, pain in their writing are my guide,” he says, “and inform all judgmental decisions.”

From inbox to realization

Even if I coordinated other complex, large-scale concerts, this project had no territory map. This included arranging recording sessions for five ensembles, accommodating off-campus students, self-rehearsals and online, and conducting a 10-hour film shoot with five campus locations. The logistical challenges were mind-blowing-we even had to get a lot of cranes on the sidewalk outside of 77 Mass. Ave. moved.

On May 3 – a month and a day before premiere day began – Jamshied’s score and midi file for Diary of a Pandemic Year arrived in my inbox. I knew very well what he could do, but what he sent made me cry. The flow, the tone, his handling of the text, and his shaping of the five -and -a -half -minute sonic journey from dark to light – everything is just perfect. Because he wanted the vocalists to hear their parts with real sounds, he also took on the heavy task of recording all of them for the audio file itself.

My teammates and I went and ran to survive the piece. Multimedia specialist Luis “Cuco” Daglio-who helped sustain Music and Theater Arts ’musical performances for 15 consecutive months-also repeated his superhero cape, recording seven separate sessions. for groups of MIT musicians.

That’s what final virtual creation together? First, all the instrumentalists and vocalists recorded themselves playing or singing Jamshied’s midi file. Jamshied has mixed and transferred all of these tracks – over 200 of them – to Diary of a Pandemic Year modified with a lively, breathing piece of music.

“By reading the poets’ selected lines, I began to understand the impact of the pandemic on young people – the greater importance given to their few years on the planet, the limiting force of time. it is necessary for them to examine. “

—Jamshied Sharifi ’83

During the epic day of filming-directed by Clayton Hainsworth, director of MIT Video Productions (MVP) —the original file was amplified by speakers for all the players and singers to come to life. Even with refraining from playing or singing the midi track, it still feels revealing. Emmy Award – MVP winning producer and editor Jean Dunoyer ’87 led the video team, which beautifully captured the emotional scope of the composition and the meaning of what the students had accomplished.

“At the end of a long year and a half of meeting to produce music in Zoom and in the various practice rooms, capturing the music video gave us the opportunity to show up together in person in a meaningful way. way, “according to Mx Wind ensemble saxophonist Rachel Morgan, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “It makes so much sense to see what music can do at MIT!”

While Jamshied worked on his shyness of audio mixing, Jean, who I consider the other magician on the project, creatively interpreted the point of a film. “I wanted the piece to be an invitation to the community to come back to campus, unmasked and personal,” he explains. “The joy of togetherness has been the thing our students have missed the most in recent months, and when the signal came that the vaccine was working, the desire to reunite was already fulfilled.”

Powerful messages for the future

The work everyone does to realize Diary of a Pandemic Year symbol of the central role music, and the arts in general, have played in the lives of many MIT students. It proves how determined students, faculty, and staff are to ensure the continuity of music playing under testing conditions from the start of the pandemic.

As Erica said, “Diary of a Pandemic Year feels like a musical postcard to graduates from The World, even if it could only have been created at MIT. ”

Days before the premiere, Jamshied demonstrated the universality of the piece and its central message. “Reading the selected lines of the MIT poets, and the longer poems from which they were derived, I began to understand the impact of the pandemic on young people – the greater importance given to their few years on the planet, the limiting force of a time that for them can be exploratory and wide, and the uncomfortable place of a matrix of open disasters that bring especially indifference and hubris to man, ”he wrote.“ The present moment feels hopeful; the birds sing of new life. Although I feel like a warning is a warning, and an unwavering suggestion that we don’t ‘go back to normal,’ but seek a progressive, equitable, and holistic way of structuring our world. Our young people know this from their bones. We have to listen. ”

Frederick Harris Jr. in the faculty of Music and Theater Arts is a director of music the MIT Wind ensemble and the MIT Festival Jazz ensemble.

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