‘A magic within the room’: UPEI music ensembles return to in-person performances | CBC News

For the first time in two years, student musicians at UPEI are getting the chance to perform live and in person for large audiences this fall. 

Thanks to the P.E.I. Vax Pass and loosened COVID-19 restrictions in the province, UPEI’s wind symphony, string orchestra and concert choir are once again holding in-person concerts this week. 

“As musicians, what we love the most is performing for other people. So it’s super exciting to be looking at getting back to in-person performing this year,” said Dale Sorensen, assistant professor of brass at UPEI and conductor of the wind symphony.

The wind symphony will perform Nov. 25 at the Dr. Steel Recital Hall.  

The ensemble consists of 42 wind, brass and percussion players, and is made up mostly of music students. A few community members and non-music students also play in the group. 

UPEI’s wind symphony rehearses before its first in-person concert since the start of the pandemic. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Other large performing groups on P.E.I. are also starting to hold concerts again, including the P.E.I. Symphony Orchestra, which performed last weekend as a full orchestra for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“There’s just a different feeling that you get when you’ve got people there listening to you,” said Sorensen. 

There’s something about live performance that really creates a magic within the room.– Music student Olive MacPhail

Students who play in the wind symphony agree. 

“There’s something about live performance that really creates a magic within the room,” said Olive MacPhail, a fourth-year music education major who plays tuba in the ensemble. 

“Once you are a part of a huge ensemble like the wind symphony, it’s a matter of working together to create that magic for the audience.”

Last year’s rehearsals were ‘really difficult’ at times due to the band having to rehearse in two groups, says Olive MacPhail, who plays tuba in the wind symphony. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Devyn Collette is in her first year as a UPEI music student but has been playing alto saxophone with the wind symphony since Grade 11. 

“It’s a very proud moment whenever you can walk out and see that many people being able to watch you,” said Collette. 

During the 2020-2021 school year, Sorensen had to get creative in order to hold rehearsals. 

Due to COVID-19 distancing restrictions, the entire ensemble couldn’t meet at once, and they could only rehearse for 30 minutes at a time. 

Thanks to the P.E.I. Vax Pass this school year, the entire ensemble can rehearse in one room without being as spaced apart. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

“What I ended up doing was splitting the group up into two. So I’d rehearse with half the group for half an hour, while the other half was split up into smaller sectionals of a few people,” said Sorensen. 

After taking a half-hour break, he would work with the other half of the ensemble while the first group of students worked in smaller groups. 

By spring 2021, the whole ensemble was allowed to play together in one room, but the musicians still had to be spaced much further apart than usual.

Devyn Collette is in her third year playing alto saxophone in the wind symphony. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

This created its own set of challenges.

“The flutes and clarinets up front … there’s no way anybody [further back] on the stage could hear them,” said Sorensen. 

That meant the musicians couldn’t listen to each other the way they normally would. 

“I had to get them to rely more on watching me and playing with me no matter what they were hearing,” he said. 

Band recorded concerts last year

MacPhail, whose pronouns are they/them, said this was “really difficult.”

“Dale would be up there describing a musical line that the flutes play, but I had never heard it before. So kind of conceptualizing that sound as you were rehearsing without it actually being there,” they said. 

During the last school year, the ensemble recorded its repertoire at the end of both semesters and posted the recorded concert online in September 2021. 

Sorensen said his students adapted very well, and he kept reminding them there were few university ensembles that were able to meet and play together at the time. 

“We were actually lucky … to even be able to do what we were doing.” 

Excited to ‘hear the applause’

Preparing for an in-person concert is a whole other experience, though, said Sorensen. 

“For us to be able to hear the applause is going to be … a totally different thing and a really important part of what we do as performers,” he said. 

The program features music around a loose theme of “flight or things above the Earth, the sky, the planets, that sort of thing,” said Sorensen. 


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