South Orangetown Central School District

On Wednesdays, Choral Director Russell Wagoner, DMA, hosts “The Choral Conductor’s Studio,” a live Zoom session for Tappan Zee High School choral (conducting) students.

“I spent the first two weeks we were closed to research and try out creating the virtual choir scenario for the students to discover that, regardless of the platform, video latency doesn’t work for a choral rehearsal situation. To create a virtual choir, as many are popping up over the web, requires countless hours of audio and video editing, which still doesn’t recreate a ‘live’ performance. A three-minute song can take more than 80 hours to produce,” explains Wagoner. “So, I looked to make lemonade out of lemons.”

After sifting through piles of other choral directors’ lesson recommendations and mulling over conversations with colleagues, the inspiration hit. “Why not ‘bring in’ all these fellow choral conductors that aren’t able to hold their own rehearsals so that our students can learn from their expertise?” Wagoner recalls.

Typically, these professionals would be busy holding their own classes. Under the current circumstances, however, the schedules worked. Each week, a choral director participates in a live Zoom session with Wagoner’s classes to discuss an area of choral music that they feel passionate about. Participating professors also provide students insight about choral music at the collegiate level and details regarding their university’s program for those interested.

Before each “Studio” session, students research the featured conductor to learn about their particular expertise, choral and performance experience, watch them in concert productions, listen to their recordings and prepare questions based on what they had learned. Wagoner says that guests have been impressed by students’ interest in improving their own vocal production and rehearsal process.

“​I strive to provide my students with as varied an education in choral music as is possible, including opportunities to work with leading conductors and composers in the field, and to sing in prestigious halls, such as Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall,” says Wagoner. “Our music students’ education extends beyond the rehearsal room onto a variety of concert stages and opportunities to work with industry professionals. ‘The Choral Conductor’s Studio’ is another way for students to connect with professionals and learn about pertinent topics in the field of choral music.”

But Wagoner also sees this as a chance to model flexibility and innovation. “I want my students to see how they can take a situation, such as being deprived of a ‘normal’ choral rehearsal schedule, and turn it into an opportunity never before offered to them,” he notes. “It is this creativity that I want to inspire in my students to make the world a better place.”

Wagoner is using the visiting professional format for The Singing Actor course, too, to enhance students’ individual video performance “in class.” “The “Face to Face With…” sessions feature Broadway performers such as Karen Mason (“Mamma Mia,” “Wonderland,” “Sunset Boulevard), this week’s guest.

Beth Keck and Russell Wagoner onscreen