The Virginia Tech Chamber Singers didn’t expect to start a garage band this semester, but the global pandemic called for a little improvisation in the Perry Street Parking Garage.

“I thought it was a little crazy at first,” said Jillian Donahue, a junior and choir member. “It’s not what I would have thought the first choice of a rehearsal space would be, but it’s actually been a pretty cool experience.”

One of three university choirs, the Chamber Singers has used a barricaded section of the fourth floor of the parking garage on Perry Street as a space to rehearse their songs. They use the parking space lines to help maintain physical distance from one another and the natural ventilation to help mitigate germs as they sing through their face coverings.

“I’m just really grateful that I’m able to still rehearse in-person with my wonderful friends and colleagues,” Donahue said.

At a time when singing indoors has been largely considered a serious threat for the spread of COVID-19, the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts faculty had to think creatively to identify low-risk locations for music ensemble rehearsals. The parking deck turned out to provide an ideal environment with some surprising bonus features.

“It’s covered, and it has good air flow,” said Dwight Bigler, an associate professor of music and director of choral activities. “Those were the two main things: protect us from the sun and weather while providing good air circulation. A side benefit is that it actually has nice acoustics for singing!”

Photo by Ryan Young for Virginia Tech.

Singers in parking garage
Singers rehearse in the Perry Street Parking Garage. Photo by Ryan Young for Virginia Tech.

Of course those acoustics are accompanied by the unscripted sounds of the neighborhood — traffic from Prices Fork Road, nearby construction, and the occasional skateboarder — which can sometimes challenge the ensemble’s focus and make it difficult to hear each other sing.

“It’s been a little bit different to practice here because you hear a lot of things going on,” said Isabella Kitts, a junior studying music education and behavioral neuroscience. “You can see a lot of Blacksburg, a lot of stuff from up here, so it can be a little distracting, but otherwise it’s been cool. Sometimes it echoes back to us and that’s really cool.”

Bigler said rehearsing in the parking garage was just one of changes made this semester to maintain the quality of education while also keeping in step with public health guidelines. The singers have also been recording and uploading individual performances, which has provided many new opportunities to use modern technology.

“There is audio editing software now that shows us every detail for each pitch — if it’s on or off and by how much. It will even show you the level of vibrato,” said Bigler. “It’s a great tool for singers to visualize what they’re doing with their sound.”

The students are also recording their music to share as an online concert in December since it is currently not possible to present a live concert with an in-person audience.

Donahue said the overall experience of the semesters has taught her a lot, which she thinks will be beneficial in the future.

“I’m an education major, so I’ve learned a lot about maximizing rehearsal time and how to create bonding in an ensemble with less-than-ideal circumstances,” Donahue said. “I think that’s a lot of important insight I’ll be able to lean on as a teacher.”

— Written by Travis Williams