A common lens through music

  • A pre-pandemic performance of the Pioneer Valley Symphony orchestra. Contributed photo

  • A pre-pandemic performance of the Pioneer Valley Symphony orchestra. Contributed photo—

  • A pre-pandemic performance of the Pioneer Valley Symphony orchestra. Contributed photo—

  • Sarah Paquet, chorus director of the Pioneer Valley Symphony. Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2021 12:39:35 PM

At the height of the pandemic last year, music played an integral role in bringing people together. Viral videos of opera singers in Italy and New York singing to their neighbors brought a moment of peace in the face of an unknown future. Locally, community musicians like Sarah Paquet, chorus director of the Pioneer Valley Symphony, fostered unity by taking their musical programs online.

Now, as stay-at-home restrictions begin to lift and the world starts to reopen, Paquet’s symphony is again using its platform to unify the community around a common cause this weekend by hosting a live musical event digitally, “Fauré’s Requiem: A Community Tribute.”

“We felt like we really wanted to reflect on the reality of the pandemic in the local community,” said Paquet. “The Fauré requiem is a really beloved piece that singers are familiar with.”

Interspersed throughout the seven movements of the piece by Gabriel Fauré, which was completed around the early-1900s, will be six prerecorded interviews by community leaders from various social and health sectors in the region, sharing personal stories and experiences from the last year.

While there will only be one musical recording played over Zoom — a famous rendition performed by the Academy and Chorus of St. Martin in the Fields and conducted by Sir Neville Marriner — performers from the Pioneer Valley Symphony and others who want to join will play along to the score from their homes — with their microphones muted because of latency issues. Sheet music can be obtained ahead of the event for various instrumental parts, as they’re not included in the score video that will be displayed.

The requiem event is a part of the symphony’s 82nd season. According to Paquet, the symphony pivoted to virtual programming during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing to meet online to make music and listen to lectures.

“Normally, there are a handful of string players who like to play,” Paquet said, noting the Zoom format is an extension of what the symphony has been doing over the past year. “I’ve been so impressed and fortified by the members of the PVS and additional singers and players who've jumped in this year — by their participation and their insistence on keeping music alive in the valley this year when it was so challenging.”

In the absence of live music, the symphony members have “learned how important it is,” she said. “I don’t want to say that we took it for granted before, but I think maybe we didn’t realize how important it was to us and how lucky we were to be able to walk into a room with hundreds of other people and sing and play together.”

By combining music with vignettes from various community members — selected for their contributions to combating the pandemic’s effects locally — Paquet says she hopes to create “a common lens to look at the pandemic and reflect on it together,” she noted. “We’ve all been fairly isolated during this time, we’ve all had in common certain experiences we’ve shared, but they’ve all been in isolation.”

Interviewees include Kirsten Levitt, executive director of the nonprofit Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield; Robin Driscoll, postmaster of the USPS branch in Old Deerfield; Rabbi Devorah Jacobson, spiritual life director at JGS Lifecare in Longmeadow; Mandi Jo Hanneke of the Amherst Town Council; and medical practitioners, educators and families from the region.

“We asked each person to share about the challenges they experienced at work during the pandemic, the things that changed, and the ways in which they saw (its) impact,” Paquet said. “We asked them if they had seen any bright spots, any moments of hope, and a lot of them came up with the strategies and creative solutions they had.”

Tickets to the show, which will start Saturday at 7 p.m., are $15 per device or free with a family pass available at any of more than 30 local libraries in the Pioneer Valley. To reserve access, obtain a Zoom link and find more information about the symphony, visit pvsoc.org.

Looking ahead, as stay-at-home orders are lifted, Paquet says the symphony plans to resume a sense of normalcy. On May 22, for example, there’s an open-air chamber concert scheduled at Black Birch Vineyard at Hatfield beginning at 6 p.m.. Then on Aug. 21, there will be a musical walking tour at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.

The Pioneer Valley Symphony is one of the oldest community orchestras in the nation. It was founded in Greenfield in 1939 and these days performs in Franklin and Hampshire counties.


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