Allison Middlekauff’s new studio space is her garage, complete with cement floors that creates an echo when she sings, an ever-present chill that permeates thanks to an Oregon winter and thin walls that let the sounds of rain and construction in.
Middlekauff, a second-year jazz and choral music studies major, has had time to make adjustments by creating a sound-proofing fortress complete with posterboard, towels, carpet and pillows to record.
It’s just in time too, because Middlekauff, like many other students at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, are preparing for their junior and senior recitals.
In order to comply with safety standards, the department is taking this once live performance graduation requirement and having students record their work. Students are not allowed to perform with other musicians in-person, which means that for anyone using live music to accompany their work, they must ask their peers to record too.
Otherwise, track music will have to do.
But for Anna Crumley, the only way to keep the authenticity alive in the music she was creating was to perform it in-person.
“There’s something beautiful to be said about that live in-person culmination of ideas and bouncing off of each other and feeding off of each other,” Crumley said.
Crumley, a fourth-year jazz studies and choral education major, recorded her 10-piece recital, arranged by her, with live instruments like guitars, drums and horns.
She performed with them, all in-masks and socially distanced in a backyard, but the experience was surreal.
As she performed, Crumley said that she was looking into a scattered crowd of a few roommates and musicians, their expressions unreadable due to their masks. The energy she was used to was gone, and it taught her how to rely on her own energy to fuel her performance as opposed to a crowd’s.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s one person in the audience or 1000,” Crumley said. “You still have to be on.”
While Middlekauff accepted using piano tracks to accompany her singing for her junior recital, for one piece she will be incorporating the flute performed by her mom.
This isn’t the first time Middlekauff has worked with her mom. During community college, the two played in jazz and orchestra bands together, and Middlekauff credits her mom as the reason she is in jazz.
That love of jazz will be present in Middlekauff’s recital, who will be covering music by Betty Carter, a renowned jazz singer.
“She was a perfectionist, and she didn’t take no for an answer and she’s just such an amazing artist,” Middlekauff said. “She wrote this tune called ‘Open the Door’ and it’s just a lovely, lovely tune, so I’m going to be doing a cover of that to pay homage to her, and to the thing that we’re trying to do [in jazz] to bring awareness to your jazz music and sort of pay respect to that.”
In between her own recitals, Middlekauff is also recording a part for student Kaitlyn Kimura’s project.
Kimura, a fourth-year music composition major, also utilized her peers in order to have live instruments accompany her pieces for her senior recital. This was done virtually, which meant individual recordings from players and tons of emails and texts to make up for the lack of in-person communication.
But, that was only half of the job.
Kimura still had to take each recording and mix them together so that it sounds like a single, professional piece.
“That’s something I haven’t had a lot of experience doing, so, I’ve met with the audio engineer for school just to get some pointers on how to do that because that’s just a whole other art in itself,” Kimura said.
Like Middlekauff, Kimura had to make do with the spaces she has in order to practice and record. Kimura uses her room, opting to work at night when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet.
But the loss of working with her friends is more prominent for Kimura because it is her last semester.
“That emotional connection that you build when you’re together and making music, you can’t really recreate that online,” Kimura said. “It’s definitely not the ending that I thought it would be. I guess a part of myself will always wonder what it would have been like if we didn’t have this pandemic and everything.”
For Crumley, there is still hope that by the time she performs her senior recital, she’ll be back at the university.
Her recital would include a piece arranged so that her peers in Pacific Standard Time, the CSULB jazz ensemble she is in, would perform with her. Crumley said that she wants her mom, also a singer, to perform in a piece with her, and to have live art being created by her roommate who is a painter at her performance.
It’s everything her junior recital could not be.
“I’ve had this dream that I want to be in the Daniel Recital Hall…to have a bunch of friends and to have my family there, they unfortunately all got COVID, so that’s why they couldn’t come [to the junior recital],” Crumley said. “To have my family healthy, my family to be there, my friends to be there, and I’m such a people person so to see people together would just make me so happy.”