Published: December 20, 2019
For almost a decade, UT’s Department of Music has hosted a December concert that signals the start of the holiday season. In layers of musical harmony, the Chamber Singers and Camerata Singers, under the direction of Ryan Hebert, envelop the audience literally and figuratively with a palpable joy indicative of the season.
Typically standing-room only at both afternoon shows in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values, Let Heaven and Nature Sing: A Holiday Celebration will gain an even larger audience this year.
The College of Arts and Letters, with the departments of music, communication, and film, animation and new media, recorded and transformed the Dec. 8 live show for broadcast on PBS. It will air on Saturday, Dec. 21, at 8 p.m. on WEDU, on Monday, Dec. 23, at 7 p.m. on WEDQ and on Tuesday, Dec. 24, at 9 p.m. on WEDU.
After the last broadcast, a video of the performance will be available on WEDU’s website.
“We have such a talented faculty and student body, and we want people to know that UT is a place where the arts are an integral part of the fabric of our school,” Hebert said. “We want people to know that UT is a place to seriously consider study in music, dance, film, art and drama, and that the arts are alive and thriving here.”
The collaboration shines a bright light on the College of Arts and Letters, from the vocal work of the student performers to the creative direction of the production crew and the technical abilities of the post-production team.
“We will be showing to the greater public that we have a robust, energetic, charismatic, intellectually curious student body, whether they are in COM or FMX or ART, they are so smart and curious and wanting to just work,” said Taylor Curry, assistant professor of film, animation and new media, who is serving as second unit director. She captured a welcome message at the Victorian Christmas Stroll in the Henry B. Plant Museum from UT President Dr. Ronald Vaughn and his wife, Renée, interviews with several of the performers, as well as background footage of the choirs rehearsing, all of which are threaded into the televised show.
“What the dean is doing having the College of Arts and Letters handle this production is that it makes it special, and I think the students will feel the deepest reverberations of that,” Curry said.
What’s especially unique is that students and faculty — almost 20 of them, not counting the performers — are working side-by-side to produce the show. The students have been given a small stipend, thanks to Charlene and Mardy Gordon, Geneva Damron and the College of Arts and Letters.
“It’s important to note that this is not a class,” said Aaron Walker, associate professor of film, animation and new media, who is serving as the drone operator, editor and post-production supervisor. “We’re doing the work with them. We’re doing the labor, we’re mentoring them, we’re teaching them, but when we’re editing, I’ll be right up next to them editing. I’m looking forward to working with students as coworkers.”
Other faculty credits include producer Christopher Boulton, associate professor of communication; first unit director/Steadicam/jib operator Warren Cockerham, media production coordinator; audio recordist Bradford Blackburn, chair and associate professor of music; and executive producer David Gudelunas, dean of the College of Arts and Letters.
“This experience has enhanced my academic experience, because it’s given me real hands-on experience on how a real set operates in a documentary/television style format,” said Tamsen Simpson ’21, a film major involved with the production team in gathering behind-the-scenes footage and the interview with the Vaughns. “It’s been a great experience getting to collaborate, since essentially the field I’m going into is one big group project.”
Due to the amount of camera equipment needed and the confined space in the Sykes Chapel, the production team recorded footage at two rehearsals, as well as the two live performances. This way they were able to get the more up-close, invasive shots done in rehearsal without disrupting the live audience’s experience.
This meant that the post-production team had to sync four performances seamlessly, choosing the best angles and shots while aligning the footage with the mastered audio, interspersing it all with the background footage and aerial campus views.
Gina Bernardini ’21, an animation and mathematical programming double major, was part of the post-production team, specifically working on graphics and building out the credits. She was also on set as the digital imaging technician during the Dec. 7 rehearsals.
“We have a lot to do in a very short amount of time, so it will be very challenging with only four students and one faculty member in post-production,” said Bernardini. “I know that we will feel so accomplished when we finish editing, because I am anticipating hours with each other running into issue after issue and bonding over our hard work as a team. I have never tackled a project of this extent or profile, and I can’t wait for all of us to see it pay off.”
The concert include a brass ensemble comprised of James Kluesner and Joshua Lurie, trumpets; Brandon McDannald, horn; and Stan Wilkerson, trombone. The guest pianists were Grigorios Zamparas and Corey Merenda, and the organist was Dwight Thomas.