Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) has awarded two Faculty Fellows grants for the 2022-23 academic year. Sarah Fuchs, assistant professor of music history and cultures in the Department of Art and Music Histories (College of Arts and…
‘Music and Message’ Provides Space of Grace for Campus Community
On a beautiful autumn afternoon in October, students, faculty and staff gathered in Hendricks Chapel for what has become a regular Sunday ritual: “Music and Message.” Members of the Hendricks Chapel Choir wore masks, remaining 16 feet apart, and performed for a largely virtual audience. They made music and spread positivity. The speakers and performers, also masked and socially distant, explored themes of beauty and brokenness, a topic that has brought love and light in response to challenging times.
Established in September 2019, “Music and Message” is a weekly series organized by Hendricks Chapel. The series features musical performance and spoken reflection from a diversity of religious and spiritual perspectives. “Music and Message” has gathered a combination of online and in-person audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though students are now performing virtually due to the pause of in-person student activities, the series continues to invite viewers into the “fullness of life.”
When the University transitioned to online instruction in March 2020, Hendricks Chapel experimented with new ways to offer “Music and Message” programs virtually. They used Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom and Facebook Live to share reflections, student performances and virtual choir projects. Programs were comprehensively redesigned for an online audience.
“We had planned to do a completely different set of programming but pivoted to this new format,” says University Organist Anne Laver, artistic director of the series. “Once we got over the shock and disappointment of it all, we realized that this was a way we could stay connected to our students and offer them some encouragement.”
At a time when it seemed as if many doors were closing, these online events facilitated creativity and outreach to new audiences. When the University announced it would welcome students back to campus in August 2020, Hendricks Chapel sought to continue its innovations and started making plans to offer a live-streamed “Music and Message” series. The chapel invested in new equipment and expertise, and the artistic team reached out to students, faculty and chaplains with invitations to speak and perform.
Hendricks Chapel began the 2020-21 “Music and Message” series on Aug. 30, with a “Blessing of Students,” and has continued weekly on Sundays at 4 p.m. It was open in person to campus community members when campus policies allowed. Now, all guests can experience the program online, which parents, community members and alumni have been doing throughout the semester.
Online viewing takes place with a Zoom livestream in real time, or asynchronously after videos are posted to the Chapel’s Facebook page. Facebook videos have recently been receiving upwards of 7,000 views, making it clear that this program fills a need for campus and community members.
In a time where finding a space to share art to the masses is more difficult than ever, “Music and Message” has been able to provide a platform for different performers and speakers every week. Students like Jonathan Harrity G ’22, a graduate clarinet performance and orchestral conducting major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts who performed in the series, are grateful for the rare opportunity.
“I think my favorite part about playing was being able to share my musical message within the context of a diverse array of speakers and musicians. The service felt deeply personal while also emphasizing our shared experiences and humanity. I loved being a part of it,” Harrity says.
“There are very few opportunities for students to perform live these days,” says Laver. “We are very happy that we can offer ‘Music and Message’ to the campus community for encouragement and healing, but it also serves as an important outlet for our student musicians.”
In addition to inviting a variety of performers and speakers each week, the series consistently features performances by Laver and Hendricks Chapel Choir. Although the entire choir has been unable to perform together during the programs due to COVID-19 guidelines, the choir was divided into quartets, with four singers performing together each week, prior to the pause of in-person student activities.
Choir members valued the opportunity to sing together, even if they could not perform as a full group. “Singing in the quartet has been a fantastic experience for me,” says Daniel Lepoutre ’21, a choir member and history major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “I’ve always loved performing hymns every week. Singing as a quartet has helped me appreciate each part around me, including the organ, as well as my own.”
“Music and Message” is experienced online by guests throughout the world. Although the pandemic has presented many challenges, it has revealed that people will find ways to connect from wherever they are. The spirit of the work that Hendricks Chapel does—and the spirit of the Syracuse University community at large—cannot be dulled.
“One of the many lessons learned over these past months is that crisis can spark clarity, and the more significant the crisis, the more substantial the potential for clarity,” says Hendricks Chapel Dean Brian Konkol. “In this time of sustained crisis surrounding COVID-19 and countless other personal and public traumas, what has become increasingly clear is the need to nourish and nurture the heart and soul within higher education.”
The series will resume in Spring 2021 starting Feb. 14. Learn more by visiting the Music and Message webpage.
This story was written by Grace Krichbaum ’21