Feature News

North Central’s virtual Alma Mater performance: Behind the scenes

Lauren Ford

May 28, 2020

Cardinal students create a moving memory amidst the sadness of the COVID-19 pandemic

When his professor Dr. Ramona Wis, Mimi Rolland Professor in the Fine Arts and professor of music, announced that she’d like to create a virtual choir, music education major Axel Hageman ’23 offered to help answer any questions the group might have.

The next morning, he woke to an inbox filled with emails from students, faculty and staff. “My phone exploded overnight,” Hageman recalled. “The idea had taken off. The next thing I knew, I was putting together the alma mater for the Commencement webcast. I was in a panic at first ... but I didn’t want to say no to Dr. Wis.”

Viewed by more than 12,000 people and counting, the alma mater was widely regarded as a highlight of North Central’s virtual commencement web stream, and was even featured on a WGN-TV newscast.

“We are grateful that this challenging era provided an opportunity for students to demonstrate, in a very tangible way, our choral mantra—‘Singing for the Greater Good,’” said Wis. “Our singers were honored to represent the department and College at a high level and contribute to our virtual Commencement.”

North Central's virtual choir performs the College alma mater.

North Central's virtual choir performs the College alma mater.

Finding harmony in a virtual commencement

“I probably put in about 30 hours of work,” said Hageman, “and a lot of other people worked hard too.”

Wis organized choral members and provided a video track for singers to use as a guide while making their individual videos. Providing input throughout, she worked with Hageman in the mixing stages of the project. “Even remotely, we could still make musical decisions about balance, tone and nuance,” she noted.

Jonathon Kirk, associate professor of music and chair of the department, helped keep the ball rolling throughout the process. Abigail Risner ‘ 21, the College’s Concert Choir president, and Sara Mokrzycka ‘ 21, Women’s Chorale president, also supported the project. All told, 30 members of Concert Choir and Women’s Chorale lent their voices to the effort.

Hageman began his work with research––lots of it. “I consider myself pretty technologically advanced,” he said, “but nothing had prepared me for this. Fortunately, I know a lot of people [in the music business] around the state, so I began by emailing them for advice.”

Many of his contacts stem from his involvement in the industry, both on campus and off. At North Central, he sings with the Concert Choir and Chamber Singers; he also directs Sonata Problem, the College’s competitive a cappella group. Off campus, Hageman directs the show choir for Naperville Central High School. He also works with Road Show Inc., a Naperville not-for-profit he helped to create; the organization provides performance opportunities and training to students in third through eighth grades.

Striking the perfect note

North Central’s student singers had four days to submit their alma mater performances, which Hageman then edited, extracting audio from video. He said that blending those sounds into one cohesive performance consumed most of his time.

“It’s very different when you can’t meet in person,” he explained. “If you’re standing together in a choir, then you’re listening to everyone around you and adjusting your own voice accordingly. But you can’t do that if you're singing alone in your room.

“Dr. Wis wanted to be sure the final product sounded like a choir, not 30 people digitized together, and I agreed. I knew this had to be perfect, or I’d be really annoyed. That’s just the way I am.”

Hageman also spent considerable time learning how to make the North Central logo move on and off the screen; creating a grid so that student images would line up perfectly; and aligning the movement of students’ mouths with the audio.

“It was a lot of work, but worth every minute,” he said. “I’m grateful for the people and experiences that gave me the skills to figure it out. And I’m happy the College found a way to recognize seniors; that we could all enjoy some sense of normalcy.”

Even with our coordinated performance showcases and our exemplary musical theater school program, it is so amazing to see the way our alums showed up and took initiative to make this virtual performance happen. 

Watch and listen to the alma mater performance