Side effects of the pandemic preventing college and university groups from physically visiting congregations could linger for years as institutions discover new ways to worship and reach distant audiences.
With a year of COVID experience and lots of new livestreaming equipment, music departments are offering recorded and outdoor performances to churches for use in recorded or livestreamed Sunday services.
Eastern Mennonite University’s Chamber Singers recorded hymns for church services and the new collaborative Anabaptist Worship Network at anabaptistworship.net. One song was shared in the March 10 online launch event for the new Voices Together hymnal.
The vocal group’s recordings used to be limited to an online Christmas greeting or occasional snippet for marketing purposes. Assistant professor of music Benjamin Bergey said EMU is doing significantly more recording than usual due to COVID.
“We will certainly return with joy to in-person singing, but will also keep many aspects from COVID that we have learned from,” he said. “For example, I’m sure we will continue to livestream our concerts now that we have better equipment.
“We will also continue to do collaborations, marketing and holiday recordings now that we have the equipment to record. We are even doing a choral collaboration with a local high school as a way to sing with them virtually.”
Parables, the goshen college traveling worship ensemble, could not travel this year. Instead, it worked with the college’s ministries team to record “Vessels,” a 45-minute worship service of music, drama, Scripture and readings for churches and schools at goshen.edu/parables.
This spring would have been Vox Profundi’s turn to tour. Instead of hitting the road, the vocal group filmed a video with the college’s FiveCore Media that will be available to churches soon.
With no options for in-person performances at Conrad Grebel University college in Ontario, last fall’s Noon Hour Concert Series@Home continued into the winter.
“The first Noon Hour Concert was particularly unique as it was a presentation with music of the new Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together,” said series coordinator Karen Sunabacka, associate professor of music. “And more specifically, the concert explored how many more female composers are included in the hymnal.
“ ‘Still Singing: Women and the Voices Together Hymnal’ was performed by Mennonite Song and Worship Committee member Anneli Loepp Thiessen alongside Joanna Loepp Thiessen. . . . The video has already received hundreds of views and was a fitting way to celebrate the new hymnal during a time where most congregations are not meeting in person.”
A Jan. 27 online chapel celebration also featured the new hymnal with a homiletic by Distinguished Alumni Service Award winner Sarah Johnson of the hymnal committee and several recordings by the Chapel Choir.
Since most churches are not assembling Easter choirs this year, the Hesston college Bel Canto Singers are presenting an outdoor Holy Week program in collaboration with the Hesston Ministerial Alliance at 4 p.m. March 28.
Russell Adrian, director of choral activities, said the service will be pre- recorded and available at hesston.edu/easter for individuals or congregations to use in worship.
Hesston choral groups traditionally tour after commencement in May. Adrian said that instead of Bel Canto traveling from congregation to congregation with home stays, the choir is planning a series of outdoor concerts at churches around Kansas, weather permitting. With athletics running past commencement, the dorms will remain open so campus can serve as a home base. Other locations could also be added.
Rosedale Bible college students are required to attend church somewhere, so new Sunday worship services were created when the pandemic confined students to an on-campus “sanctuary bubble” that did not require masks or social distancing.
Rosedale students typically lead worship at weekly chapels, but the new Sunday worship included student preaching, worship teams, testimonies and prayer.
“Many testified that this has been the most intensely positive period in their lives,” said Rosedale director of development Jewel Showalter.
Rosedale music director Ken Miller has noticed increased enthusiasm for monthly campus-wide a cappella hymn sings.
“There was a lot of energy this morning,” he said after chapel concluded March 5 with “Praise God from Whom” (“Dedication Anthem, No. 606”). “They really got into the singing! I’m hoping that people appreciate music more after a season of time when we haven’t been able to sing openly together.”