Brooklyn College pianist’s ‘virtual orchestra’ draws talent from around the world

Harry offical photo
Harrison Sheckler, a pianist at Brooklyn College, is arranging a virtual orchestra.
Harrison Sheckler

The show must go on! 

A Brooklyn College pianist scoured the globe to recruit a soulful orchestra of would-be Beethovens for a virtual concert that quarantined music buffs can enjoy from the comfort of their living rooms.

“Being back home and not being able to collaborate with my fellow artists, I wanted to create an opportunity that I could still collaborate from the safety of my own home,” said Harrison Sheckler.

The Brooklyn College campus closed in March to help curb the spread of novel coronavirus, forcing the 23-year-old Iowa native to complete the first year of his master’s degree in piano performance remotely — and miss his opportunity to perform with the New York Philharmonic as part of the Brooklyn College Choir.

“I left Brooklyn on the 14th and I flew home,” Sheckler said. “The Brooklyn College Choir had been preparing for performances with the New York Philharmonic, and then that was gone.”

To try and turn the situation around for him and his fellow musicians, Sheckler decided to bring their musical talents together online with a virtual rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a three-minute composition from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel.”

Sheckler, who began by reaching out to friends and classmates, quickly got in contact with more than 200 schools in Iowa, and also shared the project on musical Facebook groups, calling on professional and amateur instrumentalists alike for help — which instantly spawned responses from Chile, Brazil, Germany, the UK, and more!

“I thought, there are so many musicians and artists out there that I could reach out to,” Sheckler said. “We have musicians all over the world participating, playing violin, viola, cello, bass — any symphonic instrument.” 

Most of the 100-plus submissions are from New Yorkers, though the project has also picked up steam in the UK, which Sheckler attributed to a coincidental fact he later discovered — “You’ll Never Walk Alone” happens to be the club song for England’s Liverpool Football Club.

“It was interesting when I was Googling different performances and I came across the Liverpool anthem of 90,000 fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’” Sheckler said. “So, they are enjoying it, too.”

Sheckler’s self-made project is reminiscent of one conducted by his Brooklyn College professor Jeffrey Biegel, who, decades prior, pioneered classical livestreams in Amsterdam and New York.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Biegel said. “Any way we can inspire others to do something is a fabulous thing and that is a part of teaching: inspiring others to think for themselves so they can then teach others.” 

Biegel is also entertaining during his lonely months of isolation. The Brooklyn College professor is streaming “Stay at Home” concerts from his Long Island home on Saturday nights, and has also composed a pair of waltzes during the pandemic.

“I wrote those during isolation,” said Biegel of “Waltz of Hope” and “Waltz of Hope No. 2.” “And I am not really a composer by trade but sometimes, times like this just kind of pull this inspiration out of me.” 

Biegel’s next live performance is slated for April 18. Meanwhile, Sheckler, who is no longer accepting submissions from the public, plans to release his completed production on May 1.

Stay up to date with Harrison Sheckler’s project here and tune into the May 1 performance here

Check out Jeffrey Biegel’s live “Stay at Home” concerts on Saturdays at 5 pm and his previous performances here.