A musical postcard for MIT graduates.

On February 11, I received a call from Gail Gallagher, Executive Director of MIT Institute of Events and Protocol. President Reef had just announced that MIT would be launching online again – and to open the event, we needed a great piece of music that would give rise to renewal as we emerged from the epidemic.

After almost a year of socially marginalized education, learning and living, I came up with the idea of ​​music that not only reflects the disadvantages and challenges we face but also embraces hope. How we can come back from the darkness as a better and more thinking society. Involving many music students and highlighting MIT’s flagship campus soon became a priority. And the closeness of the voice was essential.

But what was possible in view of MIT’s coveted protocol? With few exceptions, students were not allowed to play or sing together in one place. And who – on short notice – could compose a composition with such specific intent, and for the extraordinary combined forces of an orchestra, wind unisembled, jazz ensemble, Senegalese drumming ensemble, and multiple choirs? We needed a composer with the technical and professional chips to deal with such a difficult task – and to understand the heart and humanity why this time is needed.

I immediately learned that Tony Award-winning alumnus Jamshed Sharifi ’83, with his long history of working with MIT students and his desire to work on large-scale projects, Was the only person for Always in high demand – even during epidemics – as an arranger, producer, and composer of artists in Broadway, film, and many other genres, he agreed to do it together.

Since the singers will be involved in this project, unlike the collaboration we’ve had over the years, we knew we had to find a suitable text. At Gail’s suggestion, I contacted MIT poet Erica Finchuser, who wrote some of her students’ recent poems about epidemics. And once Jamshed read them, his vision became clear. He says, “Emotional openness, simplicity, and sometimes, the pain of his writing was the light of my guidance,” and informed of all structural decisions.

From inbox to feeling.

Although I have integrated other complex, large-scale concerts, the project was an unknown area. This included arranging recording sessions for five couples, not keeping students on campus, rehearsing in person and online, and setting up 10-hour film shootings at five locations on campus. The logistical challenges were stressful – we even had to take a big crane on the sidewalk outside 77 Mass.

May 3 – Premiere of the day starting one month and one day earlier – Jamshed’s score and term file for An epidemic diary of the year. Came to my inbox. I knew exactly what he was capable of, but what he sent made me cry. The flow, the accent, the handling of its text, and the way it shaped the five-and-a-half-minute journey from darkness to light-it was all right. Because he wanted the singers to hear their parts with real voices, he also took on the difficult task of recording them all for an audio file.

My colleagues and I were running to revive the piece. Multimedia expert Louis “Coco” D’Aggio – who helped keep the music and theater arts musical performances going for 15 consecutive months, once again donated his superhero cape to a group of MIT musicians. Recorded seven separate sessions.

So how did the final virtual performance come together? First, all the instrumentalists and singers recorded themselves playing or singing in Jamshed’s midi file. Jamshed then combined all these tracks and mastered them – up to more than 200 of them. An epidemic diary of the year. Turned into a living, breathing piece of music.

“As I read selected lines from MIT poets, I began to realize the effects of epidemics on young people – their great importance due to their short years on the planet, their limited strength at the time. Should be searched for. “

Jamshed Sharifi ’83.

During the epic filming day – under the supervision of MIT Video Productions (MVP) director Clayton Haynes Worth – the original file was extended through a speaker to keep all the actors and singers alive. Even with the ban on playing or singing on the midi track, it still feels revealing. Emmy Award-winning MVP producer and editor Jane Denwir ’87 led the video team, capturing the emotional circle of the composition and the students’ performance.

“At the end of a year and a half meeting to make music in Zoom and separate practice rooms, the filming of the music video gave us the opportunity to perform together in person ۔ ” Morgan, a graduate student in aeronautics and astronomy. “It meant seeing what MIT Music could do!”

While Jamshed was working on his audio mixing magic, Jane, whom I consider the second magician in the project, was creatively translating the score into a film. “I wanted the piece to be an invitation to the community to come back unmasked and in person,” he explained. “The joy of solidarity was something that our students have missed the most in recent months, and when the signal came that the vaccine was working, the longing to regroup was palpable.”

Powerful messages for the future.

The work that everyone felt. An epidemic diary of the year. The main character was the symbol of music, and art in general, play into the lives of many MIT students. He testified that students, faculty and staff have been ensuring the continuity of musical performances in extremely difficult conditions since the onset of the epidemic.

As Erica put it, “An epidemic diary of the year. It felt like a musical postcard for graduates from around the world, even though it could only be made at MIT.

A few days before the premiere, Jamshed reflected the universality of the piece and its central message. “As I read selected lines of MIT poets, and the long poems from which they were drawn, I began to realize the effects of epidemics on young people. A time that should be explored and expanded for them. And its unpredictability has been brought into the disaster matrix mainly due to human inattention and confinement. “At the present moment, hopefully, birds are singing songs of new life. But I see the epidemic as a warning, and a vague suggestion that we should not ‘return to normal’ but find a developed, equitable and comprehensive way to shape our world. Our young people know this in their bones. We must listen “

Frederick Harris Jr. of the Faculty of Music and Theater Arts is the music director of the MIT Wind Ensemble and the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble.

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