Even with the coronavirus pandemic putting a stop to their in-person concerts, the Pitman High School and Turlock Junior High School choir ensembles have still found a way to share music with the community this fall.
October is typically an exciting month for choir instructor Yohan Partan’s students at the two schools, as it’s when Pride Cafe would be held during a normal academic year. The annual event is usually performed in the PHS Black Box Theater and features the choirs singing a choral piece together as well as individual performances from different students who have auditioned for the spotlight. This year, however, Pride Cafe has been transformed from an in-person, two-hour event to a virtual series of episodes recorded on Zoom and posted online for audiences at home.
The theme of this year’s Pride Cafe is “beauty,” Partan said, and episodes one and two have already been posted to the Pitman Choir YouTube channel for the community’s viewing.
“It’s really a celebration of students, their talent and those who are breaking out of their shells,” Partan said. “We wanted to do short, weekly episodes so that people can have a chance to watch something with a positive message during these times where everyone is on edge. Students have really found meaning in it this year because they know it’s not only to showcase their talents, but that it’s actually making people happy and joyful.”
Partan isn’t sure what choir classes for his junior high and high school students will look like when they return to school in the coming weeks, as no singing will be allowed on campus to help curb the spread of COVID-19, but for the time being, his students are making the most of their time in front of their webcams.
“It’s really hard not making music in person, but you really see how much they blossom during the process and it’s so rewarding for me to see them grow as singers,” Partan said.
The first episode of Pride Cafe features an ensemble production of Amor Vittorioso, as well as a solo performance of “Fight Song” from PHS senior Kareli Gutierrez. Inspired by the theme of beauty for Pride Cafe, Gutierrez chose the song because it has recently helped her overcome mental health struggles, she said.
“I didn't start off on the best foot this year for high school and songs have always been something that help me even when I'm struggling,” she said. “This song really connects to what I’m trying to do, which is fight my way through this.”
This is Gutierrez’s eighth year as a choir student, she said, and the class has helped her become less shy with each solo performance. She hopes that her performance of “Fight Song” can inspire those watching at home.
“My favorite part about Pride Cafe this year is that you don’t have to go to the theater,” Gutierrez said. “Now it’s online where anyone can watch it.”
Choir has also helped TJHS eighth grader Emma Smith find her voice. She performed “Prom Queen” in episode two of Pride Cafe, after an ensemble performance of “Autumn Vesper.” Smith chose the song to help spread the message of internal beauty, she said.
“Society holds us to such a high standard of being skinny and beautiful and I think we’re all special in our own kind of way,” Smith said. “Kindness and love should be society’s standards, like the things we see on the inside instead of on the outside.”
While it’s been challenging singing alone to her camera at home in choir class instead of feeding off of her classmates’ energy, Smith said the virtual Pride Cafe has allowed students to share their stories with a wider audience.
“People at home should tune in because they get to hear our stories and hear our voices,” she said, “Singing is the way most of us express ourselves, so I think it’s really important for people to hear that and to hear us.”
Pride Cafe releases new episodes every Friday on the Pitman Choir YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRewnc2BjMDY3ZFnZmGQ7Sg) and will air the finale just before Thanksgiving break.