Earlier this month, Carnegie Mellon University’s D Flat Singers, for which Anika Banga ‘18 serves as musical director, took part in a virtual concert to raise money for 1Hood, a Pittsburgh-based organization that advances social justice causes through art.
The group’s performance of Ysaye Barnwell’s “Spiritual” was recorded and posted to YouTube as part of the annual C# Harvest Concert, which took place virtually this year. The event is organized by CMU C#, the vocal club that oversees D Flat Singers and other vocal ensembles. “Since holding a live concert wasn’t an option this year, we decided to make it virtual,” said Banga. “The structure of the concert was the same as usual in that we had acts by C#’s performance groups and other CMU a cappella groups, and we also held auditions open to the entire CMU community for the smaller group acts.”
Adapting to the virtual format meant finding new ways to rehearse and put together a performance. “We meet regularly using Zoom, but the lag makes it impossible to sing as a group,” Banga said. “So, we spend most of our rehearsals talking about musicality, learning new techniques and giving individual feedback.”
To create the performance for YouTube, the singers each recorded themselves singing their parts along with the conductor’s recording. “Afterwards, the rest of the choir recorded themselves while listening to the section leader recordings,” said Banga. “This way, we could blend with each other even when we weren’t in the same room.”
The decision to support 1Hood stemmed from the wave of massive protests that took place this year in response to police killings of Black Americans. “The Black Lives Matter movement impacted us all so much this year, and like many others, we were extremely upset and frustrated by the injustices in our country,” Banga noted. “After a great deal of reflection on what we could do as an org, we realized that there is a tremendous lack of diversity in mainstream Western choral music.” As such, Banga and the D Flat Singers’ conductor decided to sing pieces by living Black composers for the entirety of the semester. “We’re currently working on commissioning a piece by a Black composer for next semester,” Banga said. “C# also committed to donating all proceeds from our concerts to BLM related organizations, and 1Hood was a perfect match since they’re a Pittsburgh-based organization that supports Black artists and activists.”