Conservatory’s Prism concert goes virtual for Homecoming @ Home

Pacific Prism collage from 2019.

"If people have the sense that Pacific’s Conservatory is only about the past, Prism aims to bust those myths and celebrate the music of our students today. Their future is bright." -Dean Peter Witte

The show—in this case the Prism concert—will go on.

University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music students, faculty and staff have worked diligently to adapt what was a highlight of last year’s Homecoming and Family Weekend into a virtual format. Last year’s inaugural concert was held at the Donald and Karen DeRosa University Events Center. You can enjoy this year’s event from your living room.

Musicians have been practicing and planning for the free concert, which will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10 as part of Pacific’s Homecoming @ Home. Register for the concert and other homecoming events.

Prism concerts have become popular with schools of music across the country. They present musical experiences as pure as possible, without applause, gaps between performances and visual distractions.

Participating in the Prism concert are Pacific’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, Opera Theater, Symphony Orchestra, Saxophone Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, Mariachi Ocelotlan and two solo performances.

Conservatory Dean Peter Witte shared his thoughts about Prism:

The Prism concert was such a unique highlight of last year’s homecoming. Can you reflect on what made it special?
Prism is an opportunity for the conservatory to demonstrate its breadth and depth, all in a non-stop format. Our first Prism concert in 2019 included 200 performers. Mariachi, electric violin, Debussy, Sondheim and ragtime were just some of the surprises. If people have the sense that Pacific’s Conservatory is only about the past, Prism aims to bust those myths and celebrate the music of our students today. Their future is bright.

The conservatory has been so creative in adapting to virtual music. What were some of the challenges for doing Prism virtually?
The pandemic, the responses to racial inequities in America, and the fires, all three of these historic challenges are part of our community’s daily life. The impacts on the performing arts sector has been financially, and often emotionally, catastrophic. Our students, faculty, and staff are managing the unimaginable. We’ve responded by making music. When the nation was protesting and California was on fire, our students responded musically, launching three truly moving Black Lives Matter concerts honoring the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and too many others lost to violence. Were there technical and musical barriers? Absolutely. And our students simply went about solving them to make music. Recording, rehearsing, editing and streaming their own compositions, all of this from their homes, hallways, and often bedrooms-turned-studios, as a way to come together.

The “darkness” element added to the surprise last year. Attendees had music popping up all around them. Can you do that sort of sensation virtually? Or is there a new format?
The virtual Prism of 2020 will be another advance in the concept. We are working with a wonderful musician and technology wizard from the Oakland Symphony, trombonist Bruce Chrisp, and with our students and faculty to cook up new takes. So, more surprises coming.

One special element last year was featuring a wide range of musical styles as well as specific instruments, voice, etc. Can you give people a teaser of some of the things they might see and hear, without spoiling the surprise?
Expect the unexpected. If we’ve thrilled you, made you tear up, honored Pacific’s values through music and filled you with Tiger pride, then we’ve hit the mark.

Any tips for viewers from home about the best way for them to enjoy the concert and the sensation?
Wear headphones, turn off all the other screens and distractions, and be fully present. 2020 is too often filled with noise and distraction. Prism is an opportunity to remember what brings us together.