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Pepperdine Chamber Choir Collaborates Remotely to Record Debut Christmas Album

December 8, 2020  | 3 min read

A First NoelThe Pepperdine Chamber Choir, Pepperdine University’s top-tier vocal ensemble comprising both music and non-music majors, will release their debut album, A First Noel: 2020 Virtual Christmas Carols, on Friday, December 11. The 11-song album, which features the musical talents of all 38 members performing popular traditional carols such as “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World,” and “Silent Night,” will be available for download on Spotify, Apple Music, Soundtrack by Twitch, Pandora, Tidal, and Napster.

“Music is healing. As resilient musicians, we aim to bring people together through the performing arts, especially during difficult times like these,” says Sakeenah Godfrey, a sophomore vocalist who found that recording offered her a much-needed semblance of normalcy amid uncertainty. While the Pepperdine Chamber Choir typically performs during the University’s tree lighting ceremony at the Malibu campus, the Oklahoma native believes that releasing a holiday album is the best alternative. “People are experiencing a lot of fear and loneliness right now, but I hope this Christmas album can give our community back the peace that many of us have been missing since spring,” she says.

“Togetherness is an essential part of choral music, and performances are ultimately about relationships—relationships with each other and relationships with an engaging and listening audience,” explains Ryan Board, director of choral activities at Seaver College who spearheaded the remotely produced compilation as a class project throughout October and November 2020. “Our best singing happens when we listen to each other and respond to each other in the same space,” he says. “Many of us wept when we finally heard ourselves sing together after the completion of the first audio mixdown, as we were overcome with emotion at the beauty of the music and in realizing what has been lost over the last eight months.”

Board commenced the remote recording process by first filming a video of himself conducting each piece in his mind and sending that video to piano accompanist Hiroyo Hatsuyama, a nearly 10-year Seaver College adjunct professor who watched the video and recorded her instrumentals while providing vocals for Board’s conducting tempo. This video collaboration was shared with the students, who followed the cues to add their individual vocal parts.

“Filming myself in my room singing without the rest of the choir surrounding me reminded me that I was alone. But being able to listen to all of our voices together again brought on a joy that I have not felt in many months,” says Anahi Casas Perez, a Seaver College junior who has spent the majority of the year back with her family in Missouri. “There were many days when I wondered what would become of my college career because of the isolation from my classmates, but this entire experience has demonstrated how precious our time at Pepperdine really is and how we should never take a day—even the most uneventful ones—for granted.”

While spending the fall 2020 semester at home, Board and his students met regularly on the Zoom platform to discuss diction, interpretation, phrasing, cut-offs, loud and soft dynamics, and other musical components to consider upon recording. In an effort to reduce noise pollution, the students’ audio files, each of which took four hours to mix and master, were typically recorded in their closets, bathrooms, and garages, away from any distractions, background activities, and conversations.

“It was extremely difficult to adjust from a group environment where you work with other students very easily to an individual setting where you’re alone,” admits Avery Beavers, a first-year Seaver College student from Lees Summit, Missouri, who notes that creating this Christmas album granted her the feeling of being part of a choir feeling again. “I hope my classmates are moved by this music in a way that allows them to feel like they are part of something meaningful and engaged in community in a time when contact with others is very limited. I also hope people can see that together we can prevail during unprecedented times.” 

Recalling the beginning phases of the project, Board mentions that creating a Christmas album seemed like the perfect way to reach out to the world and encourage a spirit of unity, particularly as so many will spend the holidays away from their close friends and extended families.

“We hope that the music and messages in these Christmas carols will help the lonely and isolated to feel a little more connected this holiday season,” Board says on behalf of everyone involved in the making of A First Noel, a title that both reminds audiences of the celebrated carol “The First Noel” and refers to the first winter when social distancing guidelines and tentative travel plans have become all too familiar. “I hope these carols will bring peace and hope during this holiday season and that the story of these students' struggle and resilience will be meaningful and inspiring during these difficult times.”

For additional information about A First Noel, and to get to know the 38 members of the Pepperdine Chamber Choir, visit the Pepperdine University website.