Holding Hands

In a time of social distancing music has brought the community back together.

The hallowed walls of Mission Santa Clara De Asís are usually filled with a tranquil solemnity. For the past two years, the grand space has felt especially lonely, as the campus was cleared of most students and the church enforced attendance restrictions. This past February, though, that silence was broken by the SCU Choirs.

“Hands” marked the first in-person choir performance since the pandemic forced students to sing together through webcams and laptops. For Scot Hanna-Weir, director of choral activities, this performance was not only a step towards normalcy but also a moment of unity. The central piece of the performance, “To the Hands” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Carol Shaw, speaks of compassion for those near and far in our lives. When “To The Hands” first premiered on June 24 2016 in Philadelphia, Hanna-Weir knew he wanted to create a program around it, and wanted both SCU’s Concert Choir and Chamber Singers to perform.

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Kyle Kinard ’24 has held an interest in music since a young age. Standing on the far left he and the SCU Choir practiced extensively for their performance. Photo by Sarah Young.

“I feel like we’ve all been living through some unprecedented challenges and examining what is our contract with society,” Hanna-Weir says. “How do we engage with people in a way that’s caring and compassionate? And how are we called to do that? [These are questions] that I thought were really important to explore, and I thought would really resonate with folks.”

While technology allowed Hanna-Weir to bridge the distance made by stay-at-home orders, it didn’t fully capture the spirit of music. It is the experience of rehearsing and harmonizing together that reinforces the joy of experiencing music. 

“You’re all working on this music together and experiencing the challenges of sometimes not succeeding and figuring out how you’re going to get better” Hanna-Weir says. “Then at the end, you get to perform it for other people who can experience this art you’ve been working so hard to create, and it’s a real bond that you create with the other people in the room.”

To choral member Katie Elkind ’22, “Hands” was one of the final opportunities of a college career cut short in so many ways due to the pandemic to really build a performance as a team. It was like rebuilding a community in a scattered society. 

Her favorite piece, “Hands” by Jocelyn Hagen, represents the creation of a community. The absence of words provides a melody anyone can understand, no matter what language they speak, and join in. It begins with a soloist vocalizing then gradually builds up as more singers join in creating a sense of united hope and strength. “It’s about loving and enjoying every aspect of bliss and I think as a music person, I really felt like the melody showed and shared that without words,” Elkind says. “Something that made me love that piece was [that] everyone could gain the sense that it’s about peace and happiness and community without any words [which] was really special.”

The central song of the program, “To The Hands,” directly makes references to refugees and people who have been displaced. Singers recite data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre to highlight cracks within communities, and create a promise to stand by one another. 

Choral member Kyle Kinard ’24 says music is a universal language, and thus one of the best ways to create community and form bonds. “Music for me is a way to bring people together, even if they disagree in a lot of different ways,” he says. “Music is a way to express yourself and output your energy into the world.” 

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The SCU Choir and Chamber Singers worked together to put on this performance. They also brought in local musicians to help play select pieces. Photo by Sarah Young.

Hands, then, are the perfect symbol for bring a fractured community back together. Through music, singers reached out to one another, their campus community, and the wider community to offer accompaniment. For Hanna-Weir, his hands are literally his tools of trade to conduct the choir. And “they’re also the hands that we can reach out to other people with, and welcome them and support them,” Hanna-Weir says. “We can put our arm around somebody and put our hand on their shoulder and comfort them.”

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