Learning Music During a Pandemic

COVID-19 has impacted the lives of many this past year and has created significant changes in extracurricular activities, specifically the arts and music. The music department has seen critical changes in practice, learning, and performances. Research shows that the virus can easily spread in bands and choirs due to the release of particles in the air when singing or playing an instrument by mouth. One would ask themselves, how does a music department teach students to play music, when the students can’t physically play their instruments?

With limited ways to teach his classes, Riverbend’s band director, Mr. Wadsworth, uses virtual playing tests to critique and assess his students. “Due to COVID-19, my classes are very heavily focused on fundamentals and progressing students on an individual basis.  We are not able to perform and rehearse as an ensemble so students are missing out on building their ensemble skills. The students that I do have in-person are able to build these ensemble skills to a certain degree. However, the vast majority of band students are virtual learners and have to be muted during band class and it’s impossible to teach those skills in such a setting,” said Wadsworth. “The best way I can assess and provide feedback to the virtual students is through playing quizzes that are recorded on a variety of mics of differing qualities.”

All music performances were canceled this year to ensure the safety of students and the community, one of these being the annual caroling trip that the chorus participates in during the holiday season. “Being in choir before the pandemic happened, every student was able to share their gift with other students. During the winter time, a few choirs were able to go on a train and sing Christmas carols for the passengers,” said Riverbend senior, Krysta Zelaya. “This was one of the most memorable moments in choir because of all the happy faces of the little kids and adults. They would sing along to our songs and enjoy the spirit of Christmas.

With band and chorus being the most affected music classes, the Riverbend Concert and Symphonic Orchestras have more freedom to play because stringed instruments do not release germs in the air. Although the orchestra classes can practice their instruments in school, it can still be difficult to teach such a challenging instrument to online students. “The pandemic has made me much more reliant upon (and comfortable with) the use of technology in my orchestra classroom. I never imagined I would be teaching orchestra through a computer but I think it has sharpened my pedagogical skills and allowed me to do things which I had not considered before,” said Riverbend orchestra conductor Mrs. Rolf. “I have been able to provide students help with technique in a more detailed and personalized way. It has allowed all of us to focus on process rather than product and many of our classes have been geared towards improving practice strategies and overall musicianship.”

Although the pandemic has seemed to cause issues with everyday practice for our Riverbend musicians, it does not seem to hinder our music department’s efforts to teach and refine their musical talents.