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Voices unite: Upton school chorus lifts up community with online performances

Nyah Gazda, an 18-year-old senior at Nipmuc Regional High School in Upton, had been preparing for weeks for her vocal ensemble’s school performance. The group of 35 students and the larger chorus of 60 students were to perform March 11, but the show was cancelled that day over fears of large groups and the spread of coronavirus.

When the statewide closure was extended to May 4, Nipmuc choral director Whitney Simmonds decided that the show must go on. With her guidance, 48 students recorded their voices from home, which were brought together for an online concert that was posted on YouTube at the end of April.

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“When we went into the school closure, we had all this music that they had already learned, that they had been planning to perform,” Simmonds said. “I wanted to give the students a way to be able to share all of that work.”

Originally, Simmonds was concerned that having the students record their voices from home would intensify their isolation from the choir. To focus on connection, Simmonds reminds her students in their online classes that they are not alone and distributes a daily blog that shares ways to cope and connect with other during this difficult time.

In all, Simmonds posted five videos showcasing the work of the chorus and the vocal ensemble.

“We could all sit home and feel sad about everything being cancelled but it just feels so much better to say, ‘OK this didn’t work out but let’s try something different and let’s make sure all the work we did isn’t put to waste,’” said Gazda, a member of the school’s music program for four years.

The online performances caught the eye of Mendon-Upton Regional School District Superintendent Joe Maruszczak, who shared the ensemble’s rendition of “Alleluia Fanfare” on Twitter.

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“I believe what our students, Whitney, and the entire Mendon-Upton Music Department have done is nothing short of amazing. During these challenging times, students need as much normalcy as possible,” Maruszczak said in a statement. “By putting together this online performance, students and their families can see the culmination of their hard work and perseverance."

Gazda plans to attend New York University in the fall and plans to study film and television, but said she will always cherish her time in the choir.

“It’s a place for me to bond with my friends, to get out my creative side, and just kind of relax a little bit,” Gazda said. "It’s something that will always be a highlight of my day and a highlight of my high school career.