Technology connects performing music classes despite social distancing


Submitted Karmyn Shreeve

Senior Karmyn Shreeve practicing playing the bass.

Brianna Tang, Opinion Editor

With social distancing measures extended, the music teachers have faced unique challenges and have been adjusting to remote learning by using a website called Smart Music and assigning virtual projects. 

Smart Music gives students access to a wide variety of music pieces, as well as specific recordings for their instrument’s part in each piece and an accompaniment track that plays the parts of the rest of the ensemble. The website also allows students to record themselves playing a certain section of the piece to be submitted to their teacher for feedback. There is an assessment feature that students can use to test their understanding of the music.

“Remote learning is definitely not ideal, especially for the performing ensembles,” Music Theory, Beginning Guitar and Band teacher Eric Vincent said via email. “While I am able to provide my Guitar and Music Theory students with tutorial videos and Zoom coaching, there really is no substitute for being in the same room as a student and being able to quickly help with their guitar technique, or clarifying some new music theory topic.”

Most of the band and orchestra’s practice has been individual, and for the assignments, they have been submitting performance videos. They have been using Zoom meetings to check in and talk about assignments, but they haven’t been able to play together due to internet glitches and other technical issues.

“The focus has certainly shifted from ensemble music-making, collaboration and communication to individual work, progress, growth and skill,” Orchestra teacher and head of the Fine and Performing Arts Department Amy Collins said via email. “Live performance and ensemble music-making can’t be re-created, which is one of the things that makes music so special and unique. I smile every time a student sends me their recordings; it’s great to hear them play and making music!”

As a way to stay connected in music-making, the band groups have recently started a “virtual band” project. 

Students in my performing groups just began a ‘virtual band’ project, where each student submits a video of themself playing their part, and all of the parts are compiled into a virtual ensemble,” Vincent said via email. “I came up with the project as a way to foster a sense of community and to keep us making music together, even if it is from afar.”

According to senior cello and bass player Karmyn Shreeve, the orchestra has been continuing to practice a “Wizard of Oz medley,” which they would have performed at Pops Night. The Wind Ensemble is working on a collection of marches from “Star Wars.”

“I think [remote learning] is effective because we’re able to practice our instruments and learn new pieces,” Shreeve said via email. “It’s not the same because we aren’t playing together, but it’s the best we can do.” 

The choral groups have been focusing on individual musicianship through sightseeing, lyric training and singing scales or different medlies. The students are allowed to turn in assignments in three different ways: singing solo, singing with accompaniment or submitting links to performances that they admired.

Submitted Kathrine Waters

“I want to allow the kids to interact with the music in a way that’s useful and comfortable for them,” choral teacher Kathrine Waters said via Zoom. “This individual musicianship learning is something that I will have to keep when we go back to the classroom of singing together. I think it might be better that they are developing some of these individual skills at home.” 

Waters said all of the choirs recently completed an important assignment with the song “We’ll Meet Again.” This song was popular and important to people during World War II, since at the time soldiers were going off to war, and families were split apart.n

Submitted Kathrine Waters

“I saw the address regarding COVID-19 by Queen Elizabeth of England, and she had referred to this song at the end of the speech,” Waters said via Zoom. “The last time this kind of speech was given was during World War II when people were separated by the war. I sent a few videos to my students of different ways the song has been done, and their assignment was to submit a performance, written musical notation, or an arrangement. When I spent two and a half hours grading them, tears were running from my eyes.”