If you, like us, have been desperately missing local arts experiences this year due to the pandemic, we have some good news just in time for the holidays: The University of Cincinnati’s nationally renowned College-Conservatory of Music will launch its debut episode of a new performance series at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 11.
Titled CCMONSTAGE Online, the new series will stream roughly one-hour-long recordings of live performances from across the spectrum of art—think instrumental, vocal, dance—on CCM’s homepage and YouTube channel. Each episode will intermix recordings of new performances by a particular CCM program with vignettes of student and faculty testimonials on topics ranging from what it’s like to get back on stage to the intricacies of pulling off live performances safely during a pandemic.
While CCM’s performances were stopped dead in their tracks earlier this year in the midst of a busy spring season, students, faculty, and alumni have been busy planning this innovative way to revive their performances, and bring them to more people than ever, without any cost of admission and accessible from the comfort of living rooms near and far.
“CCM by its very nature is a training ground for performing artists,” says Curt Whitacre, CCM’s director of marketing. “The opportunity for our students and our faculty to share their art with an audience is an integral part of our educational mission.”
Plus, the caliber of talent at CCM makes it so “our students don’t just need an audience,” Whitacre says, “they truly deserve an audience.” Any fans of NBC’s current season of The Voice will understand the level of talent at CCM, Whitacre adds, as fan-favorite singer John Holiday is a 2012 graduate of CCM’s highly regarded master’s program in vocal performance.
The debut installment of CCMONSTAGE Online will feature the CCM Philharmonia student orchestra performing Classical Virtuosity, which includes groundbreaking and dynamic works by popular composers Claude Debussy/Maurice Ravel, Ottorino Respighi, Julia Perry, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Four episodes have been recorded so far with the next three scheduled to debut in early 2021. Those episodes will showcase performances by the CCM Ballet Ensemble, the CCM Chamber Choir, and a collaborative concert with CCM string quartet-in-residence the Ariel Quartet and members of the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship program.
And while you can expect to see the same high-level of talent you’d witness at an in-person CCM show, Whitacre says there will be noticeable differences. “It has been vindication to finally be able to make some small steps back to normalcy,” Whitacre says. But, “you’re going to see this series reflects the fact that we are still in a pandemic.”
CCM followed all the leading recommendations on health and safety for performing during a pandemic, which means almost all performers will be wearing masks while brass and woodwind players will be stationed between plexiglass dividers. There will also be less noticeable changes that had to be dealt with behind the scenes.
“We have an episode that is focused on our dance program and you might not realize when you’re watching, but after every single piece, the entire stage is sanitized to ensure that those dancers have the safest possible environment in which to work,” Whitacre says. The dancers also had to adapt the traditional choreography to eliminate physical contact with one another.
CCM also turned to its theatre design and media production faculty, students, and alumni to add another level of professionalism and artistry to each episode’s production. “Now students are getting the chance to design not just for live audiences, but for [virtual] audiences as well,” Whitacre says. “And those are different skill sets.” The video production services for CCMONSTAGE Online are provided by MasseyGreenAVP, LLC, which is co-owned by CCM alumnus John Massey who directs each installment in this new series.
How long will the series run? Whitacre says that depends on the future of the pandemic. However, CCM plans to record at least four more episodes in the spring, and Whitacre hopes to eventually spotlight every CCM program and discipline as the series progresses. “Virtual performances were a part of our industry before the pandemic,” Whitacre says, “and I think they’re going to continue to be an incredibly important part of our industry in the future.”
Another interesting perspective on the episodes? Each will serve as a lasting window into the pandemic experience. “Fifty years from now,” Whitacre says, “these will be very interesting historical documents for people to look back at and see what life was like during the Great Pandemic.”