Home Musical play Silver linings of COVID-19 closures at music schools

Silver linings of COVID-19 closures at music schools


“Our teachers, our students and our families are thrilled to be back, to see everyone again,” said Brandon Tesh, principal of Third Street Music School in New York. His school resumed in-person classes in September 2021 after 18 months of teaching online, caused by government-ordered school closures aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Other music schools and music programs also resumed in-person instruction last fall, but in early January 2022, his school and others had to return to online learning for a time due to an upsurge in COVID infections in their cities. Her school was back in person in mid-January, but with enhanced COVID testing options and additional safety measures in place.

“We roll with the punches, make music and keep our students active,” said Rebecca Henry, co-chair of the strings department at Peabody Preparatory, which also returned to virtual learning in January. “We had to cancel our Performance Academy festival big band from January and are trying to reschedule to February.” Nick Skinner reports that his OrchKids program, which provides free music lessons to more than 1,900 Baltimore public school students, “has developed virtual and in-person modified plans for all of our locations so we can be flexible from week to week. week based on COVID testing at each school,” going back to virtual whenever needed.

These educators and their students have become experts at pivoting quickly, a skill they had to master at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, when they suddenly had to learn how to use Zoom and other videoconferencing programs as well as apps to record music so students can continue to interact with their teachers and create virtual performances.

After many schools resumed in-person instruction last September – albeit with a mask and social distancing precautions making the learning experience very different from before the pandemic – one would imagine that students and teachers would have gladly said goodbye to the online tools they used during the shutdown. But many educators continued to use some virtual tools last fall, as part of their in-person toolbox, because they felt these techniques enhanced the learning experience, offering surprising silver linings to the test. of the stop.

“One of the best silver linings is Zoom. It’s changed everything we do,” said Nick Skinner, Senior Manager of OrchKids. He and others have found Zoom to be a great tool for hosting meetings. teachers, professional development workshops and parent meetings, eliminating travel time for everyone as people simply connect to each other from home.

Through videoconferencing, “we were able to start planning collectively,” said Jessica Zweig, program director of Play on Philly, a free after-school program for more than 300 students who meet at five different centers in Philadelphia. Before, it had always been difficult to bring all the teachers from the different program sites together for meetings, but now Zweig reports that teachers are “coming together in virtual meetings every two weeks to find ways to create consistency and continuity. between our teaching strategies. ”

The closure also impacted the OrchKids program. For the first time, they offered a weekly private online lesson to all students who were able to connect with them virtually. It was totally different from the teaching strategy they had used – the group play approach of El Sistema. “We have seen that there is nothing that can compare to the mentorship of one-on-one teaching,” Skinner said. “We will continue to do group lessons for the youngest beginners. But we are thinking of incorporating more private lessons into the program as students progress.

“We will be using Zoom classes for snow days and makeup classes,” said Rebecca Henry, co-chair of the ropes department at Peabody Preparatory. “We will include online repertoire classes for students who may not always be able to attend our events in person.” Peabody and others are allowing some students who aren’t comfortable returning to in-person instruction to take virtual classes instead.

In April 2021, orchestra students from New York’s Third Street Music School took to the street outside the school for their first in-person performance after a year of distance learning.
(Photo credit: Courtesy Third Street Music School, Mark Torres Photography.)

Another silver lining that was popular with educators we spoke with was the ability to bring in professional musicians during the shutdown to meet students in virtual masterclasses and workshops “at a fraction of the price,” he said. Skinning. There is no need to cover airfare and hotel costs with virtual gatherings. He and the others plan to continue these virtual tours. “We have improved some of our equipment and our technical know-how,” Tesh noted, “so that the digital master classes can be of very good quality. We will also be livestreaming more of our performances as we are limiting the capacity of our in-person performances,” a process that began last spring with this video of an in-person performance that took place when New York City began to allow outdoor concerts on certain streets.

Zweig’s program commissioned composers to create new pieces for Play on Philly students. Iranian-Canadian composer Dr. Iman Habibi wrote a piece that “children learned practically on their own. We made individual recordings and put them together. He was able to give them comments from Canada. Now Play on Philly commissions composers to write new pieces that are suitable for beginners but are “written by people who reflect the children who play them”.

The online group performance projects sparked a lot of creativity among the students. OrchKids has always offered collective composition workshops in which students improvise together around a theme to create a new piece, which they then perform in concert. “We found another way in virtual space,” Skinner said. “The students were each recording their own stuff and sending it. We hired a producer to weave it all together and create a track. The children were so free with their recordings. Also, a piece created during a live performance “doesn’t survive much after the concert. With the Virtual Workshop, we have the video that can continue to be enjoyed. They also used this approach to record different student groups performing when COVID concerns prevented a winter concert from being held in December, much like Play on Philly.

Rebecca Henry was impressed with the creativity the students showed at their online concerts during the shutdown, as they added “art, poetry and improvisation to more varied stories than our regular concerts.” We will look for similar opportunities in the future. So will Katrina Wreede, whose high school students have created a multimedia piece on the water, adding their own photos to accompany the music – one of the many creative projects of the Young Musicians program that she coordinates and teaches at the San Francisco Community Music Center. She encourages her students to continue developing the recording skills they learned during the pandemic and to “create something and release it to the world on YouTube. Some students completed a project on their own this year. They have created a video for new children who have joined the group, with tips on how to practice and other useful things. It was so welcoming.

Wreede also explored musical recordings on YouTube with students during the shutdown, doing more listening and analysis with them than before. Henry too. The two hope to incorporate this into their in-person teaching. Both also noted another benefit of their weekly online classes with students: they were important for student well-being, creating “a safe place of peace, creativity, and musical creation,” Wreede said. Henry added that the isolation caused by the shutdown was particularly difficult for teenagers. “Our weekly connections were more personal than before as we all navigated the meaning of making music.”

Featured Image: Play on Philly students perform at the St. Rose of Lima Music Center in this Philadelphia program. Courtesy game on Philly, photo by Daniel Kontz.