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Experiencing Twenty / Twenty Vision Via Choral Music


Although we have all faced the same pandemic and adapted to our own forms of isolation, we each have felt and experienced the past nine months in our own way. Debuted on Dec. 11, the visual, choral Twenty / Twenty project gives viewers a glimpse into both the individual and the collective, drawing from personal responses to COVID-19 in a collaborative and socially distant way.

Conceived, compiled, and edited by composer and Assistant Professor of Music Composition at Rutgers University Scott Ordway, Twenty / Twenty is a six-minute immersion into the lives of 100 singers from Hamilton, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore colleges. Hamilton co-commissioned the work along with the other participating colleges and contributed 25 singers to the project. Snippets of campus life can be seen throughout the video.

In September, Ordway asked the singers to finish the sentence “One year ago today, I did not know that…” Their responses make up Twenty / Twenty’s text, and their 1600+ audio and video contributions complement and respond to their responses.

Kelly Collins ’21, who has sung in the College Choir since her first year at Hamilton, described the process: “Once the piece was written, we were really lucky to get to rehearse in person and hear each other sing our parts. … We then individually recorded our own voice parts in sections and made more video snippets to be included in the final project, with images like our front door before we exit or the view from our window. … Working on the recordings really opened my eyes to all the sort of behind-the-scenes work that usually goes into projects like this.”

Director of Choral Activities and Instructor in Music Charlotte Botha knew early on that Hamilton should be involved in the project. “Nathan Zullinger, director of choral activities at Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College, approached me over the summer,” she said. “He was hoping to find companion college choirs who would be interested in a co-commission of a Scott Ordway work that expresses the shared isolation singers are facing at the moment. I knew that it would be a worthwhile project from the start!”

Botha added that she appreciates how the piece addresses relatable themes from the past year. “The co-authored text absolutely blew me away. It somehow got to the essence of some bigger shared expression that none of us could put into words individually. Scott’s music for this project is just perfect: for me, his interplay between dissonance and consonance represents the battle between uncertainty and hope I’ve grappled with for months now,” she said.

In addition to Twenty / Twenty, the Hamilton Voices ensemble spent the past semester working on a final fall concert, which was posted on YouTube on December 4. The virtual concert featured non-idiomatic choral music by Black composers, such as Mason Bynes and Undine Smith Moore, and highlighted a mix of vocal, choreographic, and video-editing mastery.

Collins summarized her thoughts on the Twenty / Twenty project: “I think that this project acted as a sort of culmination for this extremely challenging and newfangled year, and the words throughout Twenty / Twenty reflect all of the uncertainty and unexpectedness that have come from this highly virtual and isolated 2020.”

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