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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

With In-Person Performances Off-Limits, Cedarburg High School Choir Creates Radio Concerts

Cedarburg High School's a cappella choir pictured in their singing face masks.
Courtesy Victoria Benson Hora
Cedarburg High School's a cappella choir pictured in their singing face masks.

Over the past year, schools have been forced to pivot to socially-distanced or virtual learning. Some classes, such as performing arts, are trickier to adapt to that environment than others.

In Cedarburg, Wisconsin, Cedarburg High School choir teacher Victoria Benson Hora couldn't allow this school year to be one without music.

"I thought it would be very easy for [the school] to say, 'No singing, no music,'" Benson Hora says. "Because that's what's happened in a lot of schools. And I just couldn't do that to my community. I couldn't do it to these students. I thought, I have to find a way to make this work."

She put together a safety plan that includes special singing masks, social distance and rehearsals that change location every 30 minutes to cut the risk of COVID transmission.

Cedarburg's Bella Voce choir, which is made up of upperclassmen girls.
Courtesy Victoria Benson Hora
Cedarburg's Bella Voce choir, which is made up of upperclassmen girls.

There was still one problem.

"We can’t do the performing in person," Benson Hora says. "It’s just not possible to bring people in from the outside, to do all the distancing. We decided we would not do that, so we turned to the radio."

To be specific, the Cedarburg Public Library’s online radio station. It’s a tiny operation run by library employee Jeff Messerman.

"If someone comes in with a show idea, especially one like this, I told her, 'We’re going to make it work,'" Messerman recalls.

Benson Hora worked with other staff at the high school to get the right equipment. Her choirs recorded several songs and Messerman edited the first 20-minute audio concert, which aired in October.

They did three more shows in November, December and February. Messerman says the programs have been streamed more than 1,000 times altogether — that’s a lot for a tiny internet radio station.

"For us that’s stellar, that’s through the roof," Messerman says. "In a broadcast day, I’ll probably average 25 people will come by and check us out for an hour or two. So when we’re getting those kind of numbers — my eyebrows definitely left my forehead."

Cedarburg sophomore Evelyn Jones, a singer in the a cappella choir, knew that parents would listen to the shows.

"But I was definitely surprised when I found out the numbers of people who had listened, because it was more than just our parents," Jones says. "So I was very excited about that."

Jones says the radio performances weren't quite the same as in-person concerts. "I really like choir because you can connect with people, whether than be the people you're singing with or the audience," Jones says. "So I was very disappointed we would not have the concerts. But I'm glad we have the radio shows because I have those to look back on and listen to, which I do all the time."

Choir teacher Benson Hora is glad she found a way for her students to keep performing. "I felt it was my obligation to find an outlet for them," Benson Hora says. "And I’ve come to learn it’s not only been an outlet for these students, but for our audiences as well."

Messerman, the radio producer, thinks he knows why the choir’s shows have been popular. "In the time period we’re living in and the isolation, just hearing all those voices together," he says. "We’re getting some really good responses from the community too. I had one person email and say, ‘It was a night of hope.’"

Messerman and Benson Hora say the collaboration between the student choir and radio station may continue even after the pandemic.

The Cedarburg High School Choir has one more radio show coming out later in April. You can listen to the most recent concert here.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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