Chris Beroes-Haigis, a graduate student in UTEP's Department of Music, has worked on three virtual duets since March 30 while maintaining social distancing. | Photo courtesy UTEP

UTEP Music Students collaborate in confinement

Ever since New York City native Chris Beroes-Haigis moved to El Paso two years ago to study cello as a graduate student at The University of Texas at El Paso, he has sought opportunities to share his love of music.

He has played as a soloist, in duets and as part of ensembles at venues as varied as cafes, medical facilities and performance halls. He loves playing music, but just as importantly, he loves that others could be part of the musical experience.

The recent countrywide efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 have severely limited the population’s ability to interact socially. Beroes-Haigis said that the City of El Paso’s “Stay Home, Work Safe” directive initially disrupted his musical life, but then he came up with a solution.

He used the internet to reconnect with music friends and faculty from around campus and around the world to include some peers from Bard College in New York, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2016 and an artistic diploma from the college’s conservatory of music two years later. He asked them if they wanted to collaborate in their confinement and digitally record the experience.

“For me, music always has been about the human connection,” Beroes-Haigis said from his West El Paso apartment, where he recorded his portions of the musical duets on his cellphone. “While many of us are isolating ourselves in our homes during the global pandemic, I thought that these video collaborations could be a fun and creative way to stay connected with friends around the world. The emphasis for me is simply on doing something together that brings us a little closer in spirit, even while we must be physically distant.”

The UTEP graduate student has worked on three electronic duets since March 30. He performed the Venezuelan waltz “Natalia” with Venezuelan violinist Leonard Pineda, and “The Swan” with Hungarian harpist Bettina Toth.

One of his more recent duets was with Grammy Award-winner Zuill Bailey, artistic director of UTEP’s Center for Arts Entrepreneurship (CAE) and El Paso Pro-Musica (EPPM). The two cellists played “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” by Cristoph Willibald Gluck.

Each artist recorded themselves and Beroes-Haigis synced the recordings that were released through EPPM’s “Making Music Matter” web page.

Bailey said this effort by Beroes-Haigis is a direct result of the kind of work that is encouraged by the CAE, a collaboration of UTEP’s Department of Music and EPPM, a nonprofit chamber music organization. The center exposes UTEP music students to national voices and unconventional concepts to help broaden their career paths.

The celebrated cellist thanked UTEP’s President Heather Wilson and Steve Wilson (no relation), DMA, professor and chair of UTEP’s Department of Music, for their work that allows the CAE’s faculty and students to sculpt an incredible cultural landscape through music.

“This is clearly an example of entrepreneurship at work, whereby dedicated students, faculty and others are working to engage and unite a community … in the worst of times and best of times,” said Bailey, who added that the CAE was committed to work with technology to provide music that soothes, comforts and heals. “All of us are in this together.”

Beroes-Haigis said he is satisfied with the videos, but admitted that it is more difficult to capture the artistic synergy and the nuances of a composition with a virtual duet. Regardless, he said he was happy that the musical collaborations spread a mindset of unity and positivity that can be shared with anyone with an internet connection.

He said the initial reaction to his duets, as well as the many others done by his UTEP peers, has been positive. He plans to do more that incorporate more musicians in a single performance and encompass a wider range of musical styles.

Among his fans is Cherry Duke, director of Opera UTEP and a guest artist with El Paso Opera. She said she plans to do similar videos using the same software and the same techniques as Beroes-Haigis.

Duke said she is working with her opera students, who will perform their roles in their homes using whatever costumes and props are available. She plans to share pre-recorded and pre-edited versions of their performances with public school music programs in late April.

The instructor said her efforts were important to her students, who have worked hard on their performances, and for the public, because it provides a sense of normalcy amid the coronavirus.

“My aim is to give my students a sense of purpose and to keep them actively engaged in honing their craft,” Duke said. “It provides a sense of hope, of dogged determination, of beauty where there is so much doubt and uncertainty.”

Felipa Solis, EPPM executive director, called the students’ efforts to share their love of music a wonderful thing.

“These truly are amazing examples of entrepreneurship,” Solis said.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications