While not yet ready to compete with the likes of record producers Sony or Warner Brothers, Montini Catholic High School in Lombard is reeling from the applause received for the Lasallian college preparatory high school’s innovative musical creation, “Virtually In Sync” – their 2020 Christmas album recorded virtually and released online on Monday, Dec. 14.

The album was the brainchild of Music Director Donnie Glowinski, who’s second year teaching choir and band at Montini is shaping up to be a quite unique one in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions.

Early in the fall, Glowinski was tasked with making a crucial decision on how to showcase the talents of his students in a safe and appropriate manner. 

“With the current restrictions on gatherings and natural spread of germs through singing and playing an instrument, a concert was just not a viable option,” he said.  “Hybrid Learning (half of students attending school one day and the second half, the next) is a daunting task for any teacher, however, teaching music to students who are not present on a full-time basis presents its own unique set of challenges. 

“I was determined to still work on music with my students, because there are so many skills that you can learn, while learning a song or piece of music.

“My main mantra this year has been – even though we are not together, we can still make music together. I wanted the students to have a product to show for their hard work this semester, and our concerts usually fill that void.  An album seemed like the best way to embrace the current climate.  Everything right now in life is digital, learning and social too.”

For the most part, Glowinski says his students were very excited about his proposal for a virtual album. 

“They were very hesitant and nervous too,” he said.  “In a concert, if you mess up, it can be hidden or happens so quickly that it is not a large impact on the performance.  With a recording like this, students are much more exposed in their playing/singing.” 

Not to mention, digital is forever! 

The focus for the project

His main goal in embarking on this very ambitious project was to use his iPad for everything. 

“I wanted to demonstrate to my students all the power at their fingertips and how they can create amazing things with just this one piece of technology,” he said.  “Everything was recorded, mixed, produced, and published from the iPad.  I recorded individual rehearsal tracks for each student.  We would rehearse the songs in class, somewhat like a normal year, to help them learn the music and hear what the overall product would sound like.  They would go home and, using the rehearsal track, would record their single part and submit that recording to me.” 

Glowinski would then take all the parts, put them in a file and start editing.

“This would take anywhere from a few hours per track to 10+ hours per track,” he said. “As the students got more comfortable with the technology, their recordings got better.  Our later recordings are far better than the ones we did first.” 

In the end, the album contains a total of 35 student artists featured in 13 compositions, representing countless hours of hard work and diligence. Glowinski also enlisted the help of colleague and design teacher Stephanie Kuecker, who lent a hand by having her students create the images to accompany each song.

Despite the many challenges that came along with a project of this magnitude, Glowinski found that he really embraced the ability to add many additional instruments to the recording. “Usually, for choir for instance, the main accompaniment is piano,” he said. “But on some of our tracks, I was able to play piano, keyboards, bass, strings, percussion, and just about anything else I wanted.  It gave me an awesome opportunity to create too!”

Glowinski humbly stressed that even after this venture, he does not consider himself a proficient music producer, giving full credit to his students for the final product.

“They recorded their individual parts at school, in bedrooms, closets, cars, and anywhere they could find a quiet space,” he said.. The quality of the recording fell on them, just like it would for a normal concert.  I told them that I would not fix (nor could I fix) wrong notes, intonation, tempo, etc.  That still fell on their shoulders.  My job was to put it all together.”

Glowinski has his eyes set for a live concert this spring and is vowing to try to do something outdoors. 

“Of course, because of the lovely, unpredictable Illinois weather, who knows what the weather will be for a winter concert,” he said.

Hybrid learning less than ideal for music classes

Glowinski admits that learning in hybrid mode is not ideal for students to learn music. 

“It takes them much longer to work through a piece of music, than a normal year,” he said.  “Being in the classroom every other day lengthens the amount of time it takes us to learn a piece of music, unfortunately.

“I think I speak for every music educator in the country by saying we have had to completely rewrite the playbook (regarding teaching during Covid).  Virtually, rehearsals happen with mics muted, because the delay is too great to all perform together.  I think that the role of music has shifted too.

“Some of our classes take a little longer to get started because the students just have some talking to do, or some things to get off their chest.  There are very few things that remain constant from a normal year to this year.  The most constant aspect is the students’ willingness to learn and participate.  They are as eager as ever this year!

So far, praise for the album has exceeded expectations. It was released to the school community (students, parents, alumni and donors) on Monday, Dec. 14 through Youtube and SoundCloud. 

“I am so happy for my students,” Glowinski said. “They have received such wonderful praise for their work. They really deserve all of it and more!  This was so much more work for them than a normal concert, and I know they are very proud of themselves.”

 

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