Community, Features, Profiles

BU Choral Society remains inclusive, dynamic in pandemic

Music is considered a love language of sorts, through which people can express themselves while sounding beautiful, communicating through strings and chords that feel just right. For some Boston University students, music can soothe and put the world on pause — and it’s even better with their peers.

boston university choral society at splash on nickerson field
Boston University Choral Society. Despite having to perform virtually, the club remains committed to fostering an inclusive and fun environment for members. COURTESY OF ELIZABETH TERILLI

“Music to me is a form of communication, especially in ways that I cannot speak,” said Mariah Wilson, the director of BU choral activities and a lecturer in music. “Sometimes it has immense power, where even the ground shakes when you hear the sound of music.”

The BU Choral Society embraces music’s power through its chorus that is centered around inclusivity and fun, according to its website. The all-gender, student-run choir is non-audition and has been entertaining the BU community for more than 15 years at Parent’s Weekend, fall and spring concerts and other outreach events.

In August 2020, the BU Choral Society posted its first ever YouTube video: a mashup of club members singing from their separate Zoom screens to the song “A Million Dreams” from the 2017 film “The Greatest Showman.”

Their Spring virtual, mini recital took the place of the club’s annual in-person performance and was just the start of their online transition and persistence in creating music.

Wilson said the first virtual concert was particularly moving because, for many members, it was their first time hearing the choir together again since early last year.

“The truth of it is, until recently we, as singers, never heard our voices blend with somebody else’s voice, and that is a huge travesty,” Wilson said. “Until you put your tracks together and you press play.”

Elizabeth Terilli, president of the BU Choral Society and a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the club’s non-audition model makes it more accessible for prospective members who may not have extensive experience with singing.

“This club exists because in the midst of music at BU … clubs that involve music at BU, most of them are audition-based,” she said. “This club was founded for people who don’t want to audition, they just want to have something more relaxed and laid back and not have to worry about having prior experience.”

BU Choral Society Secretary Fern Bromley, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said they joined the society because of its inclusivity.

“The reason that I joined, which I think pretty well encompasses the goal, is that anyone should be able to be in a choir if they want to,” Bromley said.

They said the group also incorporates a “really wide variety of music,” spanning time period and cultures to represent everyone’s style.

“It kind of dispels some concerns or annoyances that people have about singing groups because they think that it has to be according to one theme,” they said. “We’ve always kind of tried to not do that, to make sure that there’s a little bit of everything.”

The BU Choral Society has created a community for non-music and music majors alike. But, COVID-19 has shifted the format of practices and created new challenges with online video performances.

“It went from six to eight songs in person to one online,” Terilli said. “You’re listening to the music in one ear and you’re watching the music being conducted on video, and you’re singing while that’s going on.”

The online environment has also led to a reduction in choir size and recruitment challenges, she said.

“Things kind of got harder and harder as COVID’s progressing with the arts,” she said.

However, Wilson said Zoom can also present new opportunities, adding that options such as breakout rooms and the chat feature can be helpful for learning.

“Often we don’t have the capacity in School [of] Music to be like, ‘Let’s send you out and just work with two other people and make sure you know your part,’” she said. “We don’t have five or six rooms to split up and here we can.”

Wilson added that “in a chorus, sickness is always an issue,” even before the pandemic, because colds and other illnesses easily spread. Encouraging members to wear masks or attend rehearsal through Zoom if they’re not feeling well could be a game-changer in preventing the spread of illness while allowing people the opportunity to keep singing, she said.

The club extends outside of the singing world as well. When the sexual assault protest was held on campus in February, the BU Choral Society posted on Instagram in support. The club also canceled dues in light of the pandemic.

Terilli said at a recent BU Choral Society bonding event, the group held a game night on Zoom.

“This was what we all needed, some time to spend together and just laugh,” Terilli said. “It’s totally unrelated to singing, but we just had fun.”

Bromley said the club has also hosted movie nights to further alleviate stress and bond as a group. They said the primary goal was “still making the club active … but not in a way that’s highly demanding of anybody” as not to contribute to pandemic-related stress.

Future club plans remain open-ended, but more game nights and rehearsals are definitely on the horizon, Terilli said.

“I guarantee when it’s back in person, choir is going to be a lot better,” she said.

Wilson said Choral Society is an activity where any BU Terrier — regardless of major — can join in and engage with people who are just as passionate about music.

“It’s just because you love it,” Wilson said.

One Comment

  1. This article conflates different choral groups on campus (who all do good and important work), so I’d like to clarify:

    Dr. Mariah Wilson, as CFA’s Director of Choral Activities, directs the Symphonic Chorus and the smaller BU Singers. These are faculty-lead, credit-bearing courses. When she talks about the “first virtual concert [being] particularly moving,” she is actually speaking about a Symphonic Chorus and BU Singers concert which was aired over Zoom this past December. (I confirmed this directly with Dr. Wilson.) Almost all of her comments above are actually pertaining to the Symphonic Chorus experience this year, though some of them of course have wider relevance.

    Meanwhile, the BU Choral Society is a student club, and as such, it’s not a course. Dr. Wilson does not advise and is otherwise not directly associated with the club. Strangely, their director is not mentioned in this article, but I believe it is recent CFA alum Sam DeSoto.

    Other established choral groups on campus not mentioned here are the Gospel Choir and Marsh Chapel Choir.

    The Symphonic Chorus is open to all members of the BU community including music majors, all other majors, faculty, and staff. It is traditionally open to additional community members as well, though Covid protocols in the fall will determine whether this is possible moving forward. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to contact me directly.

    Mary Gerbi
    Manager, School of Music Ensembles
    Boston University | College of Fine Arts
    T: 617.358.3808 | [email protected]