Students turn to music in tough times through local idea


Mikaela Ramirez

Staff writer and clarinetist Mikaela Ramirez (senior) plays the provided piece, “Simple Gifts” for the Lift Your Voice event. The sounds of music ring faintly through the neighborhood as others participate.

As quarantine continues, many people have turned to express their thoughts and emotions through the arts, specifically through music. With the majority of education and activities taught online, band and orchestra courses have also continued virtually. 

However, like every virtual class, the sense of a live connection with other people is held back behind a screen. 

As a way to diminish the feeling of isolation, Greg Schwaegler, orchestra director of Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, came up with the idea to get musicians to play with one another once again, not through a screen, but outside in their neighborhood.

Debuting in May, the Lift Your Voice event relaunched in October, encouraging musicians around the country to record themselves playing “Simple Gifts” composed by Joseph Brackett. Musicians could choose to play solo, with people in their neighborhood playing at the same time, or with friends and family. 

“My response to [any] situation is to make music,” Schwaegler said.

“So we cooked up this idea that we wanted to make a live performance somehow… We’re always on video, and I really wanted to do something that would involve people playing live and interacting live and just feeling a live connection,” Schwaegler said.

“And when you’re engaged in making music or listening to music, you’re focused on that moment in a unique way. That moment is being decorated by the art that’s unfolding. And so for that moment, we’ve given our minds permission to unclench from stress,” he said.

The piece had been arranged to allow musicians to participate regardless of their skill level, also giving them the freedom to play the piece in any style that was comfortable to them.

“People wanted a way to express themselves, and this is one way that, while we can go ahead and express ourselves individually, we can do this as a community,” Band Director David Lesniak said.

“… The way that you [or I] played it is not necessarily right or wrong…  It’s just music. It’s just expressions, art, and a chance for us to play together, to do something together,” Lesniak said.

As of October, Shwaegler said that they had accumulated a total of 30 video submissions, which will be combined into a collage video as a single performance.

Although live band performances have yet to be announced, these alternative performances gave musicians a chance to hear the sound of music in their neighborhood and connect with those playing, while those passing by can experience something different in their day. 

Clarinetist Jordyn Simon, junior, participated in the experience.

“At least for me, it helps me know that I’m not the only one that’s stuck at home focusing on school all the time. It’s nice to play with people even though I’m not with them,” Simon said.