An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Remote recordings are not uncommon in the music industry, but creating a musical collaboration with 55 students during a pandemic posed a unique challenge, says Jamshied Sharifi ’83, who is mixing individually recorded student tracks into a performance that will open Virtual Commencement 2020.

Sharifi (who won a 2018 Tony Award for his orchestrations on The Band’s Visit) is collaborating on the work with the MIT Wind Ensemble, using a commission he originally premiered with the ensemble in 2016, To The Light, To The Flame. Originally, he wrote the piece in response to the loss of two close friends, but it’s not meant to be sad, he says. “There’s obviously a sense of loss—that the community that everyone’s a part of and loves and feels is so vital is just suddenly shut down, and trying to make the best we can with what we have. But it’s also not a tragedy. It’s a time of reflection and reassessment.”

Each of the 55 student performers has submitted an instrumental part via Google Drive, and Sharifi has replaced an originally synthetic part with the newly-minted acoustic performance. Watch the video above to hear Sharifi describe his experience of hearing the project come together.

Sharifi’s project isn’t the only way alumni are contributing from afar to music that will enhance Virtual Commencement. Eran Egozy ’93, MEng ’95, a professor of the practice in the Department of Music and Theater Arts, is also working on a crowd-sourced effort called Comusica, which will be a special performance during the ceremonies. Audio and video clips featuring members of the Class of 2020—each singing a single note—will be woven into a composition by fellow faculty member Evan Ziporyn. And when a cappella group the Chorallaries performs “Take Me Back to Tech” to close the event, listen for voices (and faces) stitched in from members of the alumni and student community. 

Read more about how Virtual Commencement 2020 came together. 

Update: to experience the performance of To The Light, To The Flame that aired during the May 29 ceremonies, watch the archived webcast. (The piece begins at time stamp 1:01:42.)