Music postcards of MIT graduates


On February 11, I received a call from Gayle Gallagher, Executive Director of Events and Agreements at MIT. President Reif just announced that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will once again hold a graduation ceremony online-for the opening ceremony, we need a fascinating piece of music that will evoke people’s renewal when we start to get rid of the pandemic.

After nearly a year of teaching, learning and living at a distance from society, the music I envisioned not only reflects the losses and challenges we face, but also embraces how we can recover from the darkness into a better and more thoughtful society. Have an optimistic attitude. Involving many music students and highlighting the iconic campus of MIT quickly became a priority. The intimacy of the sound is a must.

But considering MIT’s covid agreement, what is feasible? With few exceptions, students are not allowed to play or sing together in the same space. Who can create works with such specific intentions for an unusual combination of orchestras, wind orchestras, jazz orchestras, Senegalese drum orchestras, and multiple choirs in a short period of time? We need a composer with technical and professional abilities to handle such a difficult task-and understand why it is needed at this moment in mind and humanity.

I immediately knew the Tony Award winner Jamshed Sheriffi ’83With a history of long-term cooperation with MIT students and his willingness to undertake large-scale projects, he is the only candidate for this job. As an arranger, producer and composer for Broadway, film and many genre artists, who has been popular even during the pandemic, he agreed to do so immediately.

Because this project will involve singers, unlike the instrumental collaborations we have done over the years, we know we have to find the right text. At Gayle’s suggestion, I contacted MIT poet Erica Funkhouser, and she compiled some of her students’ recent poems about the pandemic. Once Jamshied read them, his vision became clear. He said: “The emotions in their writing are open, simple, and sometimes painful and sad. This is my guiding light and provides a basis for all composition decisions.”

From inbox to realization

Although I have coordinated other complex large-scale concerts, this project is uncharted territory. It includes organizing recording sessions for five ensemble groups, accommodating students who are not on campus, rehearsing in person and online, and organizing a 10-hour filming at five locations on campus. The logistical challenges were incredible-we even had to install a huge crane on the sidewalk outside 77 Mass. Ave.

May 3-One month and one day before the first school day premiere-Jamshied’s score and MIDI files Pandemic Year Diary Arrived in my inbox. I know his abilities very well, but the things he sent made me burst into tears. Fluency, tone, his handling of the text, and the way he shaped this five-and-a-half-minute journey of sound from darkness to light-all of these are perfect. Because he wanted the singers to hear their parts with real voices, he also undertook the arduous task of recording all these audio files by himself.

My colleagues and I are busy making this work a reality. Multimedia expert Luis “Cuco” Daglio-he helped music and theater art music performances continue for 15 consecutive months-put on his superhero cloak again and recorded seven independent meetings for the MIT musician group .

So how did you do it The final virtual performance come together? First, all instrumentalists and singers record their performance or singing into Jamshied’s MIDI files. Jamshied then mixed and mastered all these tracks-more than 200 of them-until Pandemic Year Diary It became a living, breathing music.

“Reading a selection of verses from MIT poets, I began to understand the impact of this epidemic on young people-given that they have fewer years on the earth, it has a greater significance, and it limits what they should explore time.”

–Jamshid Sheriffi ’83

On an epic filming day—supervised by MIT Video Production (MVP) Director Clayton Hainsworth—the original file was amplified through speakers for live performances by all players and singers. Even if it has to be restricted to play or sing in midi repertoire, it is still enlightening.Emmy Award-winning MVP producer and editor Jean Du Nouille ’87 Leading the video team, beautifully captured the emotional range of the work and the expressiveness of student performance.

MIT Wind Ensemble saxophone player Rachel said: “After the year and a half of the conference, making music through Zoom and a separate practice room, shooting music videos gave us the opportunity to perform in person in a very meaningful way. Morgan, Graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “It is of great significance to see what MIT music can do! “

When Jamshied played his mixing magic, Jean, I think the other magician on the project, was creatively translating the soundtrack into a movie. “I hope this piece is an invitation to the community to let them return to the campus in person without a mask,” he explained. “The joy of reunion is the thing that our students have missed most in the past few months. When the signal that the vaccine is working comes, the desire to gather again is obvious.”

Powerful information for the future

Work that everyone is beginning to realize Pandemic Year Diary It symbolizes the central role that music and general art play in the lives of many MIT students. It proves how firmly students, faculty, and staff have ensured the continuation of musical performances under very difficult circumstances since the beginning of the pandemic.

As Erica said, “Pandemic Year Diary For “World” graduates, it feels like a music postcard, although it can only be created at MIT. “

A few days before the premiere, Jamshied reflected on the universality of the work and its core message. “Reading a selection of verses from MIT poets, and the longer verses they drew from them, I began to understand the impact of this epidemic on young people-given that they have fewer years on the planet, its impact is even greater. It has limited influence on them. For them, this period should be exploratory and expansive. Its position is uncomfortable in the matrix of disasters mainly caused by human negligence and arrogance. “He wrote. “The moment is full of hope; birds sing new lives. But I felt a warning during the pandemic, an unambiguous suggestion that we should not “return to normal”, but should seek an evolutionary, fair, and holistic Way to build our world. Our young people know this well. We should listen.”

Frederick Harris Jr. The professor of the Department of Music and Dramatic Arts is the music director of the MIT Symphony Orchestra and the MIT Jazz Orchestra Festival.


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