Online music classes aim for harmony, from a distance

Category:  News
Wednesday, September 16th, 2020 at 3:36 PM

While COVID-19 has disrupted all aspects of higher education, the music department at Edinboro has faced some unique challenges in regard to instruction and their numerous ensembles.

All pre-COVID-19 offerings are still being taught this semester, said Gary Grant, chair of the Department of Music and Theatre. Meanwhile, the “Spirit of the Scots Marching Band,” “Concert Band,” “Pipe Band,” “University Singers” and “Choir” ensembles have all transitioned to meeting virtually this fall.

According to Grant, enrollment has fluctuated between the ensembles — down in some, while up in others. The music educators meet regularly to discuss effective ways to teach the students and keep them engaged.

“Overall, the music department faculty are doing a remarkable job adjusting to online delivery,” Grant said.

He explained that some remote experiences work better than others though. “There are a number of music classes that work really well online. The general education classes and individual lessons can effectively be taught via Zoom. The large ensembles are more challenging.” 

For example, “Concert Band” has run into some technical difficulties. According to Charles Lute, director of the group, some instrumental ranges actually cancel out and come through inaccurately on certain device’s speakers during Zoom meetings. He explained that the band also encounters sound and motion delay, which creates a difficult environment for consistency and direction.

Adjusting to these challenges, Lute divided the group into smaller sections so the practices run more smoothly. He says he learns something new each session that helps him improve delivery and “make the audio work a little better.” The students are currently working on music they would have performed in a concert scheduled for last May, which was canceled after instruction was moved online. 

Marching band director Diann Smith requires members to submit individual recordings of them playing the song selected for that week. According to Smith, preparing field shows for the fall football games is normally the first priority of the band. Instead, they're currently preparing a video performance for the upcoming virtual Homecoming.  

A silver lining to this disruption of their regular routine, Smith explained, is they have more time to “discuss the aspects of marching band that we rarely have time to cover, such as what goes into designing a field show and what makes a show enjoyable to watch.”

The marching band normally meets once a week on Zoom to discuss progress. “Our zoom meetings have been about sharing experiences, discussing leadership and mental health, and just [having] time to relate to one another. Freshmen have the opportunity to ask questions and upper classmen have the opportunity to provide guidance,” Smith said.

“The online sessions have been very productive and given a lot of opportunity for growth. This semester is really going to be used to focus on the individual musician,” said Mia Harvey, a graduate student in the communications department and member of numerous ensembles. She believes the goal is to keep musicians practiced and ready to showcase their hard work and musical talent when in-person sessions resume. This semester, she is involved in concert band, pipe band, marching band and choir.  

Harvey was one of the last students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in music last spring after the program was put in moratorium in fall 2016. The two remaining music education majors are completing student teaching this fall.

For many students, the music programs at Edinboro offer a sense of purpose and community. Grant stated that sharing experiences with others who have a similar passion for creating music is extremely beneficial to the students involved. To the music department, these characteristics have always been significant, regardless of the delivery. 

Although the major was cut, a music minor remains. While acknowledging Dr. Scott Miller’s (Dean) and Dr. Michael Hannan’s (Provost) support for current course offerings, Grant expressed concern about the future of the department and its minor.

“I absolutely worry about the music minor, and I will do everything possible to keep the music minor available to all EU students.”  

Despite the challenges that come with the current pandemic and changes to the department, the music instructors are teaching as usual and the music is playing on.  

Julia Carden is a staff writer for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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