When hymnist Horatio Spafford penned “It Is Well with My Soul,” he had just lost his four daughters, who died when the SS Ville du Havre sunk while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Composed by Philip P. Bliss, the hymn is an expression of Mr. Spafford’s deep faith in Jesus Christ despite unspeakable tragedy.
When St. John’s University transitioned to a remote campus early in the spring, Normand Gouin, Campus Minister for Music and Faith Formation, crafted a project designed to keep students engaged with something about which they were passionate: expressing their deep and abiding faith through song. Mr. Gouin chose “It Is Well with My Soul” because it spoke to the notion of determination.
“The University community has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the implications surrounding this crisis,” he explained. “And yet, we are compelled to persevere and to not lose hope.”
Last April, he invited the student musicians who perform at St. Thomas More Church to embark on a virtual choir project, “With One Voice.” They sent him videos of themselves performing a specific vocal or instrumental segment of “It Is Well with My Soul.”
Students met on Zoom for rehearsals and individual coaching sessions. Fourteen students participated and sang their assigned part to a prerecorded musical track. The videos were compiled and edited to produce one complete performance.
The student musicians found the experience both challenging and fulfilling, as well as a unique way to stay connected, Mr. Gouin noted. “The song choice was a really huge comfort during these hard times,” observed Theology major Marie Josephe Sanou, a junior. “I found it challenging to make sure my voice sounded exactly like the soprano part during the recording, but I am really pleased by how it all turned out.”
Sophomore Sarah Quispe recalled the project as a daunting experience. “I was so used to singing with the choir in person, that I was sensitive to every little mistake or falter in my voice,” the Psychology major noted. “It definitely made me pay more attention to how I sing because I was forced to be completely aware of only my voice.”
Sarah added, “I have always been so impressed by our choir, but this project was astonishing. I was amazed by how great the final product turned out.” She noted that, for her, the final product was indistinguishable from an in-person performance. “It was a nice reminder of the ways we can still connect and be together, even during this unprecedented time.”
“It was an interesting experience, and I loved learning about it as we worked on it,” observed sophomore Margaret Scott. “Although I found it slightly challenging to record the video properly and make sure my voice was in tune to the recording, I enjoyed the challenge.”
Margaret, a Biology major, found herself reflecting on the meaning of the lyrics and praying about it amidst the challenges of the spring semester. “I loved this experience and felt that it drew me closer to my faith and my Campus Ministry family.”
Junior and Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology major Caitlin DeProssino observed, “Hearing everyone’s voices in the final product was my favorite part. It was like we were back to singing together. It exceeded my expectations.”
Alessia Nestico, a second-year student in St. John’s School of Law, missed the energy of performing live and feeding off the energy of her fellow performers. “However, to see the entire project come together so beautifully was extremely rewarding,” she explained. “I was ecstatic to praise God and feed my passion for music in this nontraditional way.”
“Bringing the student musicians together for this project was extremely humbling and gratifying,” Mr. Goudin stressed. “Their willingness to be vulnerable before their smartphone screens, their commitment to learning voice parts, their tolerance of rehearsals and voice coaching on Zoom calls, and their passion and energy, were truly inspiring.”
The performance can be viewed here.