The album will include songs performed by the BYU Singers, Men’s Chorus, Concert Choir and Women’s Chorus

Though many will remember 2020 as one of the darkest and most difficult years in modern memory, the pandemic year also yielded some bright spots of hope that underscored human resilience in the face of trying adversity. For BYU choir directors Andrew Crane, Brent Wells and Sonja Poulter, the pandemic provided a key opportunity to bring light into the lives of their students and the community.

With the careful physical distancing protocols in place, the BYU Singers, Men's Chorus, Concert Choir and Women's Chorus were still able to perform virtually this last year. Both the students and directors considered this a blessing.

Wells, the Men’s Chorus and Concert Choir director, said that the performances provided “poignant moments that resonated with our virtual audience, even though we were performing to an empty hall.” He added that the virtual format, while certainly odd, allowed them to do a lot of good. “It’s a different way of impacting people,” he said.

Bekah Johnson, a member of the Concert Choir, agreed, noting that while it felt strange not to have live feedback during the performance, it was “a massive blessing in disguise.” She continued, “We had more people watch our livestream concerts than would have ever been [at] a live performance. . .We could reach thousands more people because of not being able to perform to a live audience.”

“Each song we sang gave us something to hope for or celebrate,” fellow Concert Choir member Austin Kennedy added. “It didn't matter whether we were singing those pieces for a live audience or a virtual one. We knew that there were people watching that needed those messages.”

One of the triumphs for the Women’s Chorus this last year was that they were still able to produce a music video, “The Sun Never Says,” arranged by Dan Forrest, in spite of pandemic restrictions. This piece, along with others, was performed during the Winter Choirfest earlier this year. Women’s Chorus director Poulter said that she considered the messages of the pieces to be their great strength, while the music enhanced and amplified those messages.

All four choirs will be featured on the newly released BYU Combined Choirs album “Press Forward: Singing Through a Pandemic.” The album will feature pieces taken from each choir’s performances this last year, with a total of 16 tracks.

While putting together the album, the directors carefully considered which songs best represented the rich talent of the choirs and embodied the spirit of resiliency and hope. Many of the song choices were strongly influenced by music created during past pandemics, like the Spanish flu and the Bubonic Plague, as well as music created by African American composers and faith-promoting hymns.

Poulter commented that she hopes as people “listen to this [they] will be edified and strengthened and empowered to do their own hard things.” She added, “The messages of those hymns are much more powerful than anything else we can ever sing, and to sing in those times all together was very empowering.”

BYU Singers director Crane hopes that listeners of the album will be able to “feel a sense of optimism for what the students were able to accomplish during a very difficult year” as they listen to each song.

“I hope that they get some inspiration from that,” Crane said, adding, “I hope that this renews people as [they] listen to the album. [I hope] that their spirits are renewed and that they're able to retain an optimism for the future of singing and the arts as we get through this pandemic.”

That sense of optimism was palpable in the comments from Johnson and Kennedy.

“We all wanted to be there. We all wanted to cheer up a worried world. It was truly a life changing experience for me,” Johnson said. “We worked hard not because we had to, but because we chose to.”

Kennedy added that he noticed a greater sense of unity within the choir during this time. “We were a tighter-knit family,” he said, “combining our voices almost in defiance against the pandemic that constantly threatened to silence them.”

“Press Forward: Singing Through a Pandemic” is now released on Spotify, Apple Music and other music streaming platforms.

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