Singing Through the Mask

By Emma Grace Howlett ‘25

When I was ten years old, I auditioned for the Seattle Children’s Chorus with a blanket over my head. I was too shy to sing my audition song, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and hid underneath my comforting childhood friend, Blankie. With the choir director blocked from view and Blankie’s soft blue fabric creating a calming atmosphere, I was able to sing my audition and join the choir. I am still amazed and grateful to this day that the choir director let me audition with a blanket over my head!

backs of three female singers facing Bridges Hall of Music stageWhile I have since grown out of needing my trusty Blankie with me to perform in front of other people, I still enjoy singing in choirs. Last semester I sang in the Pomona College Choir, which was the most inspiring, challenging, fun, and rewarding choral experience I have ever had. However, it was also unique in an unfortunate way: we had to sing wearing masks and stand six feet apart. We practiced and performed in Bridges Hall of Music (“Little Bridges”), Pomona’s sizable concert hall. However, in order to maintain a six foot distance between us, the choir spilled off the stage and took up the entire first floor of the concert hall, leaving only the smaller upper balcony for the audience. This made it extremely difficult to hear the singers next to me, which in turn made it hard to sing with balance and blend. Funnily enough, the distance between all of us made it so parts of the choir would lag behind because it took their sound longer to travel back to the director.

Yet even with all these challenges, I found choir to be a rewarding experience that far outweighed the annoying Covid protocols. The architecture of Little Bridges is itself one of the highlights of singing in choir. The great silver organ, the painted, carved ceiling, and the dark, shiny wood paneling make it a most inspiring space. When the sopranos are not singing I like to gaze admiringly at the intricate ceiling patterns, which incorporate the coat of arms of the Medici family, and count the pipes of the towering organ. The space is wonderfully resonant, helping our voices to travel beyond the mask. This semester we performed several Latin hymns such as “O Magnum Mysterium” and “O Nata Lux.”. The gem of our repertoire was a nine movement piece by Margaret Bonds with text by Langston Hughes titled “The Ballad of the Brown King.”

Emma and 3 friends from choir outside However, at the true heart of the choir are the people that I get to make music with. Some of my closest friends are in choir with me, and our pre-choir meals every Tuesday and Thursday have become a fond tradition. Before our two concerts last December, we got ready together and had fun braiding each other’s hair into unnecessarily complicated chignons. Afterwards, we got boba tea from the on-campus boba shop Milk & Honey. The cafe was lively and filled with an energetic post-performance atmosphere. We shouted our orders to the cashier, then went outside to sip our boba in the chilly December air. The wind was blustery as we walked back to our dorm rooms arm in arm.

Though auditioning was a little intimidating, I am far more confident than the scared girl who auditioned with a blanket over her head. Now I can sing without inhibitions, supported by my kind, talented, hilarious friends who make learning challenging music a joy. We are back at it again this semester, with a new set of music to learn for our concert this spring. I am so grateful to be in choir, even if we have to sing through a mask.