And the Beat Goes On... Teaching Music through a Pandemic
Last spring, as the novel coronavirus spread across the world and sent students home for the rest of the semester, music teachers were faced with a dilemma. How does one teach music when singing and wind instruments are not allowed? When some instruments are not designed for regular sanitation? When gatherings for performances are indefinitely put on hold?
"Music is such a collaborative process," says Choir Director and music teacher Kali Paguirigan, "and so there were some pretty significant obstacles in moving to Zoom classes. It forced us to seek out software that the kids could use to create music." Ms. Paguirigan began using Soundtrap, a music-making program that allows students to collaborate together from their homes. "It's really useful and the kids love it," says Ms. Paguirigan, "and now I will always use it as a component of my teaching."
In addition to embracing technology, Ms. Paguirigan saw teaching online as an opportunity to share music via the internet and have more discussions with students about how music can elicit emotions, the history behind it, and even its role in expressing one's personal identity. "You can think of music as a performer would, but you can also approach music as an art form and as an appreciator of music," Ms. Paguirigan says. "I feel like sharing my own musical interests with my students is bringing more of my personality into my teaching."
For guitar students, Kent Denver was able to supply each with their own, labeled instrument that stays on campus. As we move through the school year, the music staff is balancing activities in music education that can smoothly transition between in-person and online learning, in the event of another shutdown.
From years of teaching private lessons to Kent Denver students before he became Producer of Commercial Music, Justin Adams was familiar with Kent Denver's high standard of performance for its musicians. He also saw areas for improvement for students who wished to pursue music as a career. "In any college music program, all students—no matter what their instrument—have to learn applied music theory by taking piano class in order to really understand music at a higher level," Mr. Adams explains. From the beginning, his vision for Kent Denver's Commercial Music program included building a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) piano lab to facilitate this learning, and to enable students to open up musically and get more creative.
When the pandemic hit, Mr. Adams seized the opportunity. Over the summer, with the support of Art Department Chair Sarah Mitchell, Middle School Director Carrie Green, Upper School Director Eric Chandler and Associate Head of School for Non-Academic Affairs Jerry Walker, the band room was transformed into a MIDI keyboard lab that could operate within COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Sturdy music stands that can accommodate students' laptops were paired with single desks supplied with MIDI keyboards—all that can be disinfected daily. The benefits of this setup are many: students can collaborate online, learn chords and harmony, record and listen to their playing and even arrange and orchestrate new compositions, according to their level of musical skills and ability. Students can also record their primary instrument at home and play it in class through the MIDI system.
"Piano learning is actually a quite basic fundamental of true music learning," says Mr. Adams, "but it does indeed allow for far more advanced things to unfold. My hope is that at the end of this semester, students will see improvement on their primary instrument. I'm betting that if the kids invest their energy, effort and time in this different approach, the music they will create will be better than anything I could ever engineer. The far-reaching educational value of this is effervescent. It's something that gives over time, a seed that turns into a tree. But it takes time to water that tree and to watch that tree grow."
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