By Brett Peruzzi, Contributing Writer
Region – The Boston Youth Chamber, a group of classically-trained young musicians that includes members from Northborough, Westborough, and Shrewsbury, isn’t letting the coronavirus pandemic stop them from sharing their music.
Since they can’t gather and perform in public now, they did the next best thing – they recorded a video of them playing together on Zoom.
“We have made it our goal to support those struggling, and give them some comfort with our virtual music-making,” said Justin Wang, a 16-year-old pianist and violinist who lives in Northborough and is finishing his sophomore year at Algonquin Regional High School. “Our most recently-finished project has been a virtual performance of Dvorak’s Seventh Humoresque.”
“Last December, we created Boston Youth Chamber as a way to bring what we love doing, making music together, to our local communities,” Wang explained. “Many of us had prior chamber music experience, but none of us had really gotten a chance to share our music in a delivered, organized fashion with communities less exposed to classical music.”
Since its formation, the group has performed at several venues, including area senior centers, a church in Worcester, and at Boston’s First Night celebration.
Other local musicians in the group include violinist Forest Ma of Westborough, violinist John Qiu of Shrewsbury, and cellist Karthik Seetharaman of Shrewsbury. Violist Richard Zhang of Ningbo, China, attends and normally boards at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, but had to return home due to the school’s switch to virtual learning because of the pandemic restrictions.
“The entire project ended up taking a month,” related Wang. “Including planning out who was going to play what, arranging the Humoresque (which is originally written for solo piano) to be played by many different instruments together, recording parts, and finally, editing.”
Wang noted that the project was not without its challenges.
“I spent about a week arranging the piece on flat.io, an online music notation software tool, referencing various other arrangements and recordings of the piece. It was my first time arranging music, but as I learned, it grew more comfortable,” he observed. “It was an adventure weaving harmonies and melodies together, some of which Dvorak did not write.”
“It took us two attempts to record the piece,” said Wang. “As you might guess, playing in time with eight other people without being able to hear them was difficult in its own right. We had to resort to using a metronome to mechanically dictate an even tempo, but all of us retained much of the artistic freedom that makes music beautiful.”
“And finally came the editing,” Wang explained. “Amber Hynes, one of our violinists, who lives in Dorchester, was our editor. If arranging was any challenge, editing was an ever greater one. We consistently had to work out problems together when the recordings didn’t layer correctly and artistically, and there was clearly a great effort made in editing the video.”
“It was a novel experience for all of us, making music together in a world where everyone must stay apart,” said Wang. “We hope that in producing this video, just as with Boston Youth Chamber as a project, we can spread the joy found in music to our communities and to the world.”
Throughout history, musicians have played during events of human tragedy. The orchestra on the Titanic in 1912 played as the ship was sinking in the Atlantic Ocean, to help keep the passengers calm as they boarded the lifeboats. All eight of the musicians perished when they went down with the ship, and were later honored for their heroism. During World War II, some concentration camp inmates survived by performing in camp orchestras for their Nazi captors and other inmates alike, and wrote numerous classical pieces, including symphonies.
“Even in the darkest days, music lives,” Wang concluded.
To watch the video on YouTube, where it has been viewed hundreds of times, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTE78pWg-5U. It can also be viewed on the Boston Youth Chamber website at https://www.bostonyouthchamber.com.