It was a two-month journey that ended with about a dozen people making beautiful music, together, virtually. When the campus closed down in March, the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu University Strings ensemble members, who had been rehearsing weekly for their spring performance, quickly transitioned to plan B.

“We’re going to create this music from our heart and offer it to our community,” University Strings Director and UH West Oʻahu Associate Professor Jon Magnussen told the ensemble over a Zoom meeting.

The ensemble transitioned from holding weekly two-hour in-person rehearsals to online sectional meetings. For Magnussen, this meant four two-hour sectionals a week to cover violins, violas, etc. Members would upload their recorded audio tracks and sectional members would spend time critiquing and refining their performances.

“It’s a very difficult time for our community, and obviously, in this particular instance, we’re lucky that we’re able to keep the music going,” said Magnussen. “I thought that it was really important for the students to still have this experience of making the music as a part of the whole.”

U H West Oahu University Strings on zoom

Music 410H students and first violinists Justin Shimazu and Alex Kobayashi rose to the occasion. But the new way of making music was not without its challenges.

“I just hate recording with just all my family members moving around the house. They just can’t be quiet,” Shimazu shared from his garage during a Zoom meeting with the ensemble.

For the final version of the challenging spring program, each ensemble member recorded their part individually, while playing to a click track, then Magnussen blended the recordings together for the final ensemble performance, with guest pianist Katy Luo.

The UH West Oʻahu University Strings spring 2020 program included:

“We’re training for a lifelong love of continuing to make music and participate and make music and have that joy,” said Magnussen.

While feeling fortunate that UH West Oʻahu was able to give this musical gift to the community, his thoughts are with the larger arts ʻohana during pandemic. Magnussen said, “I think if you look at our community and music makers that truly depend on their music making to make a living, we really need to think about ways that we can continue to support the arts.”

—By Kelli Trifonovitch