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Student Musicians Explore the Recording Process

As part of the innovative effort to adapt to the limitations of COVID-19, the Department of Music and Theatre focused some of their time and creative talent on recording an EP last semester. “Bethel University Jazz with Strings, Volume I” is the department’s most recent record available on major music platforms.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

March 24, 2021 | 1 p.m.

Professor of Music Jason Harms led student musicians through the recording process in Benson Great Hall last December.

Professor of Music Jason Harms led student musicians through the recording process in Benson Great Hall last December.

If you were to search “Bethel University Jazz with Strings, Volume I” on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, or anywhere you listen to your tunes, you’ll find an Extended Play (EP) record produced by the 5:40 Jazz Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra strings. Because COVID-19 limited live performance prospects, the Department of Music and Theatre delved into the process of recording pieces—a feat spearheaded by Director of Jazz Orchestras Jason Harms, who was excited to offer student musicians a valuable learning experience. “My hope is that this will give students an opportunity to consider music in a broader context,” Harms says. “COVID-19 has given us all an opportunity to consider music's other venues.”

Throughout the fall 2020 semester, student musicians rehearsed to perfect three-minute performances rather rehearsing to cultivate the endurance for three-hour gigs for previous years' events—such as Swinging’ on the Egg in December, the annual Jazz in the Great Hall concert, a swing dance at the James J. Hill house for Bethel’s Humanities Program, and Swingin’ at the Lake in the Como Lakeside Pavilion every May. Since recording the EP in December, students have learned how to listen to their performances and refine certain areas of improvement they hadn’t noticed while playing live. Eventually, Harms hopes to provide an opportunity for students to be involved in the mixing or editing process to offer a taste of the whole music production process.

This process transcends rehearsing and recording to the level of distributing music on a broad scale. These musicians can share their work with family, friends, and potential colleagues beyond inviting them to attend an event. Harms’ personal favorite part of buying an album has always been flipping through the album booklet to glimpse what life was like behind the scenes, and as part of this process, he intentionally created a digital booklet to honor everyone’s work and the story behind this exciting collaboration, which not only connected different performance groups within the Department of Music and Theatre, but across programs as well. Art major Halle Rittgers ’21 created the album artwork, called Indigo and Ochre, and Harms loves how the image represents the heart of jazz combined with something new and fresh with the addition of stringed instruments. He encourages listeners to play the music while reading the booklet for a wholly personalized experience.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the whole process? It’s just the beginning. The EP is called “Bethel University Jazz with Strings, Volume I” for a reason. Although COVID-19 has required creative thinking, quick adaptability, and loosely held expectations, this season has also provided the opportunity to take advantage of newly available resources, like rehearsal time and funds that weren’t applied to live performances. Lord willing, Harms says, Bethel can continue to foster an innovative environment for students to become artists by incorporating fresh dreams with time-honored traditions, whether that be creating another EP or something so far unimagined. “Every way we can help students have the opportunity to create, we are further cultivating their foundation from which they can be a gigging life musician, whether that's gigging in the venues or gigging in a competition; scoring for film, animation shorts, and documentaries; producing sound for podcasts; creating advertising pieces, music videos, or a soundtrack for gaming—every opportunity that's out there in which you hear music,” Harms says.

Art major Halle Rittgers ’21 used her piece, "Indigo and Ochre," to create the album cover for “Bethel University Jazz with Strings, Volume I.”

Art major Halle Rittgers ’21 used her piece, "Indigo and Ochre," to create the album cover for “Bethel University Jazz with Strings, Volume I.”

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