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As live music returns to Hamel Music Center, students and faculty reflect

September 29, 2021 By Ila Schrecker

When the Hamel Music Center opened in fall 2019, it seemed like the perfect addition to the UW campus. Complete with a concert hall, a music hall, and various rehearsal spaces, it inspired anticipation and high expectations. 

Then the pandemic hit in March 2020, and live music practices and performances were curtailed. 

Now, a year and a half later, the Hamel Music Center has reopened its doors, both for practice and live performances.

Students and faculty at UW’s Mead Witter School of Music shared their excitement, along with what they have missed most about live music, as they navigate the current and ever-shifting landscape of the pandemic.

With the exception of string players, orchestral students were not able to practice in person. Instead, they recorded segments at home. Hannah Noughani, a junior who plays the oboe in the Symphony Orchestra, said there were unexpected benefits.

“I did so many recordings of myself [and] now there is a documentation of pretty much everything I’ve played,” Noughani said, “that has taught me so much about my playing, and I think I grew a lot as a musician individually.”

Hannah Noughani

Violinist Benjamin Lenzmeier was able to practice in person at the Hamel Music Center during the pandemic. 

“String players play with a stand partner, so there’s one stand of music and two [players] and you work together as this unit and it really helps,” Lenzmeier said, “during the pandemic, it was one of us per stand, and we were all six feet away from the next person. It makes it hard to play together and to really have a good ensemble… so that was difficult.”

Benjamin Lenzmeier

Both students shared that they missed the sense of community from playing with the entire orchestra, and are excited to feel that again. 

“It feels really good to work together towards something,” Noughani said. “We’re all working together [and] playing together, and here we are producing something very beautiful.”

Lenzmeier agreed. “When we were sent home initially in March, suddenly I wasn’t playing with anybody… I definitely wasn’t as inspired,” he said. “But now that I’m back playing with other people, it’s everything I love.” 

After a year and a half, the students expressed excitement about performing live once again. “It’s so fun to have concerts and have all your friends show up for it,” Noughani said. 

Lenzmeier talked of the connection and benefit of performing in front of a live audience. “When you play in front of a live audience you get energy back from the audience. The performance carries so much more meaning when you can tell that you’re affecting people.”

Music faculty members also are excited to return to live performance.

Mariana Farah

“Students were longing for that human connection that choir brings,” said Mariana Farah, director of choral activities. “We were all desperate to sing together again, to hear our chords together, to hear each other.”

Virtual teaching did provide an unexpected benefit, said Oriol Sans, director of orchestral activities.

“Recordings were something I had never thought about teaching the orchestra how to do,” Sans said, “but it’s something that I might incorporate one way or another in the future.” 

Students learned how to make meaningful music despite the difficult circumstances, Sans said.

Oriol Sans

For Sans, performing in front of an audience is key to the orchestra: “Sometimes people think that the reaction is only at the end of the piece, but it’s actually during the whole performance… you feel the audience in the room and it makes such a great difference.”  

For Farah, a live audience is invaluable: “You cannot replace live performance. It is poetry, stories, cultures, backgrounds all unfolding in real-time,” Farah said, “It is a way for musicians to connect with each other and with the audience. It is the only way to keep music alive.”

The first live performance for the UW Symphony Orchestra is Friday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 PM, at the Hamel Music Center. For more information, visit their website here.