Professors go high-tech to share their music with local churches

Brad Ulrich

Two Western North Carolina music professors have joined forces to help area churches fill the void of missing choirs this Easter Sunday, silenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brad Ulrich, who teaches trumpet at Western Carolina University, and Vance Reese, an organist and music professor at Brevard College, went high-tech to record three pieces of classical music they intend to donate to area churches.

“With the lockdown, churches cannot get their choirs and other musicians together to record for the services,” Ulrich said. “We thought this would be a very useful service to some of the churches who prefer to use classical music.”

The pieces—two by Vivaldi and one by Bach—feature Reese on organ and Ulrich on trumpet. But the two played their respective parts alone in their own university’s concert halls because of social-distancing requirements. “I played the accompaniment part on the organ at Brevard College, which is a mechanical action pipe organ, a fabulous instrument,” Reese said. “Our engineer, Kurt Davis, worked on it in a matter of a few hours and then I piped it over to Brad. He went to Coulter recital hall at Western and was able to listen to my part on headphones and record his part, which he then sent to me.”

Vance Reese

From there, Reese used a digital audio workstation app, GarageBand— an app he confessed to still learning — to edit his and Ulrich’s parts together so the recording sounds as if the musicians are playing together in the same concert hall. The challenge, Vance said, was when he first recorded his organ part alone without hearing Ulrich. “I had to guess at the registration and keep a steady beat, but I had a metronome to keep me on track,” Reese said. “Once I was able to hear the two parts together, I was then synching at the computer using GarageBand.”

For Vance, performing these classical pieces was doable only because of his long-established relationship with Ulrich. The two musicians are old friends and collaborators who have toured often together, most recently in January. “We breathe with each other, we respond to each other in the moment,” Vance said. And each are members of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.

While each is employed in higher education, ensuring steady paychecks, they have plenty of musician friends who are out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re doing this because people need music, especially at this time,” Ulrich said. “We hope these recordings will fuel the appetite of churches to hire musicians in the future.” Their only request, Ulrich said, is that churches do not archive the music.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of many musicians who are out of work, Ulrich and Vance say the crisis has given them the opportunity to fight back with something they love. “There’s the chance to reach out and say, ‘we need the arts at times like this and this is one little contribution that two friends can make,’” Ulrich said.

To request a music file of the three pieces, email Ulrich at ulrich@wcu.edu or Reese at reesev@brevard.edu.