The show must go on. This past weekend, musicians at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute embodied that famous saying as they performed the annual President’s Holiday Concert virtually despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To present this performance, the involved faculty, staff, and students had to reimagine how a music ensemble could perform in an era of social distancing.

This was the first time in Rensselaer history that the concert was an entirely virtual experience. It was performed by the Rensselaer Fusion Ensemble, a group formed amid the current pandemic that includes the Orchestra, Concert Choir, Chamber Music Ensembles, and remote collaborators.

Fusion Ensemble is a course created this semester to accommodate the fact that all student musicians would not be together on campus. It combines the traditional music ensembles offered within the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS), and has a flexible format that allows students to participate in person, remotely, during a set class time, or asynchronously.

The group reapproached many aspects of music, including live performance, to present this year’s holiday concert. Some of its methods included asynchronous individually tracked recordings, remotely implemented real-time performances, and socially distanced or multi-spatial live performances.

“Courses like Fusion Ensemble are innovative examples of how faculty and students at Rensselaer embrace the challenge of this moment,” said Mary Simoni, dean of the School of HASS. “When faced with obstacles, musicians find clever, creative, and resourceful solutions that give rise to new modes of artistic communication.”

The student, faculty, and staff musicians also addressed the pandemic in the musical selections they performed. Titled Peace and Comfort, the concert explored the eternal human themes of resilience, hope, and overcoming adversity from a diverse set of historical and musical perspectives.

Parts of the performance were recorded live in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center through the adoption of strict protocols, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and de-densification of the building. Other selections came together through video recordings submitted by individual musicians.

“We set a high bar for ourselves, and the Fusion Ensemble students had a tremendous capacity to rise to the occasion, coming together to celebrate performance through this beloved Rensselaer tradition,” said Christopher Fisher-Lochhead, who led the Fusion Ensemble course this semester and directed the concert with doctoral student Ricardo Tovar Mateus.

The full concert can be viewed on the HASS website at any time.