Ideas to Deal with Coronavirus and Distance Learning for Ensembles (and Conducting Class)
SUNDAY, MARCH 15
A “distance” approach to teaching conducting courses is less than ideal, but I’m hopeful that my website might provide some beneficial and user-friendly resources for those having to move suddenly to asynchronous instruction. A few ideas that might enhance the many wonderful ideas already being discussed:
2. Have students video themselves conducting assigned excerpts, perhaps while singing, then compare and contrast their own conducting with one or two corresponding excerpts from the library (using shared terms such as “legato”, “3/4”, etc.)
3. En lieu of in-person rehearsal observations, have students analyze and respond to a rehearsal video at https://www.conductorsreference.com/rehearsallibrary
. There are fourteen rehearsals in English (or subtitled) that represent a wide variety of recent and historical professional approaches.
Corey Seapy, Millikin University
I issue a challenge for collaboration on a realtime solution to the problem of remote-participant ensemble rehearsals in a time of temporary enforced social isolation. Most ensembles I know have postponed or canceled concerts and stopped rehearsals. Schools are making this mandatory. But folks still need to make music together, or at least “together” in a way that feels enough like live ensemble. We might be able to create a decent ersatz for this activity. In this time of increasingly-acute social media separation, we are already used to communicating remotely with our friends and groups from our isolated devices.
Come up with a hybrid of real-time telecommunications and live audio mixing that puts each participant adequately in a “virtual real-time ensemble” without being colocated physically.
DETAILS IN THE ATTACHED DOCUMENT (TLDR if put in FB post)
IDEAL FEATURE SET
1. All participants can be heard in the mix.
2. All can hear the mix (as in a good live show monitor speaker)
3. Timing is nearly-instantaneous (minimal or no lag)
4. Individual volume can be throttled/managed into the mix that all hear (central control)
5. Conductor/leader can be both seen and heard.
6. EXCEPTION: Not all player/singer participants need to be seen, or see each other. This reduces the problem by, say, an order of magnitude (no split screens or toggled views).
7. Solution is not too expensive either to ensemble/institution or individual participants.
All these elements are available in at least partial form in existing technology for live audio recording and mixing, and video conferencing.
1. Big-brand teleconferencing and video-phone platforms have bad lag and generally awful sound quality. Video-phone requires all to be on one camera at one end.
a. Are there better platforms less known? Not expensive.
2. All individuals are likely to have widely different microphones and acoustic environments.
a. Partial solution: set minimum standards for both, not ideal or expensive.
3. Individuals have their own volume controls.
a. Partial solution: Set standards, desired levels, do sound checks on all individuals before starting; like meta-tuning.
4. Not all instruments sound their best close-miked.
a. Partial solution: Provide guidelines per instrument type; adjust in the mix.
5. Ditto voices. Plus, choral singers who lack soloist vocal quality or temperament are often more likely to sing out when with others, losing themselves (and their inhibitions) in the crowd.
a. This freeing effect will be hard to replicate remotely in isolation, even when folks can hear their section in the mix.
b. In our favor is that more and more folks, especially youngsters, are comfortable on solo mike making a mix or a cover or a youtube spot. Pop to the rescue.
6. You need a genius at the mixing board, but you need that in a live miked performance too.
7. Individuals need to wear headsets to hear the group mix.
a. Studio instrumentalists and singers are used to this, but normal choristers and orchestra/band players probably less so. It changes how your voice or instrument sounds to you.
These are only my initial observations. I’m sure plenty of other folks are chewing on some sort of approach to this problem right now. But I bet it can be done, to a satisfactory (B+) level, mabye not well enough to replace making music all together in the same room in the long run (what could ever do that?), but well enough to tide us over the current pandemic isolation at least. And the next . . .
I welcome inputs; perhaps somebody wants to take up the task of creating a collaboration site and a test bed. And a consortium of ensembles and schools to support, contribute, even underwrite this effort.
Warm regards to all,
Composer, Singer, Guest Conductor
Santa Monica, CA
FRIDAY, MARCH 13
For those who may be looking for ways of maintaining momentum in the coming weeks I\’d like to offer the resources of UNL\’s Ensemble Performance Lab. Just posted is a resource document that may be helpful for those who suddenly find themselves with time on their hands. Nebraska is headed to all remote/distance learning for the remainder of the semester. Here is what will be occupying our thoughts:
Carolyn Barber, Nebraska-Lincoln
I hope you are doing well, and I hope that everyone is remaining safe and healthy at your universities. Considering the news of many university closings, and the need for unique approaches for wind ensemble rehearsals, I am working on assembling a consortium to commission a work for virtual wind ensemble. The resulting performance would be similar to Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir. Our goal is to produce a premiere “performance” with each university, as well as a combined virtual premiere with a combined band. Long term, this provides our ensemble medium with access to a work that can be performed remotely as a result of school closures, as a means of distance learning, as an outreach method, or as an innovative ensemble teaching incentive. I have spoken with Ryan J. Williams about doing this project. He is uniquely equipped for this task, and I am excited to say I will be doing a premiere of a concerto of his in November. You can check out his music at www.ryanjwilliams.net.
Performance venue: YouTube posting for the public. Your school and students could share a YouTube link on social media of the “virtual wind ensemble.”
Length: Approximately 5 Minutes. This is an appropriate viewing length for most YouTube audiences.
Grade Level: This is a grade 3-4. This should make the work easily accessible to a variety of ensembles and easy to “rehearse” in an online format.
Buy in: The buy in for each school is $300.
Premiere: All consortium members will be given the opportunity to submit their student videos and will be combined into a combined virtual premiere. Ryan will also provide a link to a school specific performance for each consortium member. Both videos will be shareable via social media so that we may reach our typical audience and hopefully new audiences as well. We ask that no member post their own copy until the full premiere can be shared.
Music: A link to digital copies of the music and a click track will be included for each consortium member. Also, a link to a video with a conductor will be included.
Recording: Each student will record to an in ear click track (an audio and video file will be provided). They may record it on their computer camera, iPhone, etc… and upload the video. Ryan will combine the files into a virtual wind ensemble. The recording should be a single take and unedited for the sake of continuity. The student can have as many single takes an needed, but for the purpose of combining and alignment, it needs be unedited. The student should be in as quiet a room as possible (should the video have too much noise, the video may be included, but audio omitted). Students should wear any type of shirt that is clearly representing their university.
Thank you for your consideration of this project, and I hope that this piece of music can help make these uncertain times a bit better for your ensembles. I look forward to hopefully collaborating very soon on this project.
Jay Sconyers, McNeese State University
THURSDAY, MARCH 12
The Facebook page “Live Wind Ensemble Concerts” may offer an alternative to concerts that are cancelled locally. Many concerts appear still to be planned (as of 8:30 p.m. EDT 3/12), with or without audiences, and we will endeavor to stay current. CBDNA members who, for example, assign students to write concert reviews might find this source useful.
Also, if any CBDNA member groups have live streamed concert scheduled that we do not have listed, they are encouraged/urged to contact us with details.
Dave Strickler, Senior Editor, Wind Repertory Project:
Moderator, Live Wind Ensemble Concerts:
My plan for our two bands will be to create an on-line “interpretation workshop” for the students, where we will break open both the full score and their own individual parts, looking for the visual cues — and listening to the aural cues through recordings, as to what makes a truly inspired performance. My plan is to do this with some Renaissance dances by Gervaise, Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers Overture” (which we plan to do with combined bands in May), and Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G”.
By having these resources for interpretation/inspiration, I’ll be asking them to apply them to their practice as they ready their parts for our May concert…as well as looking for opportunities to apply them in other works they are currently studying.
With two weeks to explore, I’m looking at 3 sessions each week – 60 minutes at a time – using Zoom as the platform for conferencing. All students will participate in the comments area, and selected students will perform passages for discussion by the ensemble members.
Jim Ripley, Carthage College
This is a link for Zoom users about how to set the audio prefs so that it doesn’t try to cancel out music:
And, a link to the very helpful crowd-sourcing Facebook group:
Higher Ed Music Lessons in the Time of COVID-19
NAfME Coronavirus Resource Page:
NAfME COVID-19 Resources & News
Have your students write program notes for your upcoming concert(s)….whether or not the concerts actually happen 🙂
C. Kevin Bowen, Wake Forest
I have set up a Flipgrid for each of my classes and sent all my students a link to the login portal. I set it up so they can login via their school email, but there are other options) Flipgrid (smartphone and online app) allows students to submit videos (up to 5 minutes) in response to prompts called topics. I will send up to 3 topics (assignments) per week we are out. Each topic prompt will include specific excerpts I wish to hear recorded. Once student videos are sent (recorded via the free app they download on their phone), I can review and submit individual feedback via the app. The only obstacle I foresee is making my plan work for large pitched percussion.
DuWayne Dale, Morehead State
It is the position of the ensemble directors in the department of Performing Arts that the continuation of collaboratively rehearsed large ensemble courses during a time of compulsory distance learning is untenable. After speaking with each other and surveying colleagues at other institutions around the country, we have been unable to think of an authentic way to meet the learning outcomes outlined on each of our course syllabi.
It’s clear that the objectives of these courses that these students have chosen to audition for and participate in cannot be met without an in-person, real-time collaboration between the students and their peers and the students and their conductors. As the technology to rehearse remotely in a large ensemble setting in real-time is not easily accessible or remotely affordable to individuals, it is our position that:
- Students should receive credit for and be graded on their participation and effort up to the point in which the semester might be altered. While the Symphonic Band is the only ensemble that has been lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform publicly so far, we believe that we can adequately and appropriately assess the student’s progress towards the goals outlined in our syllabi through our weekly rehearsal process up until this point which is where most of the learning, collaboration, and reflection takes place anyway.
- Any transition to another “style” of class such as an online literature class or genre survey class would be unfair to the students as it would add a tremendous amount of research and writing that they never intended to undertake when they signed up for the course AND unfair to the conductors to have to prepare a completely different course (not just the delivery method, but also the content!) on very short notice for large class sizes that can exceed over 100 students.
- For the instrumental ensembles there are equipment concerns to take into account as well. If the class somehow remains performance based, many students who play large or non-transportable instruments would be incapable of completing the requirements.
Tim Hurlburt, Clemson
Clemson University has provided an excellent resource page for students, faculty, and staff. Your institution probably has one as well, but just in case:
Mark Spede, Clemson
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11
Trae Blanco, Murray State
Instead of rehearsal I am considering holding composer interactions, setting up a discussion with one of the many composer of our genre and letting the students have a discussion with them about their music and process.
Mark E. Olson, Harvard
About the only thing I have come up with is that I could
- a) check in with all my students via Skype and have them play for me and
- b) have them keep a “practice journal” in which they keep track of how much and what they practice.
Thomas Toner, University of Vermont
Here’s the virtual band project as presented by the honor band at NAfMe:
Ramon Key Jr., Central State University
People may find this google doc useful (on digital teaching, Zoom, etc.):
Kyle R. Glaser, Texas State University
Teaching: Each week, I will send the band members a rehearsal video covering large portions of the pieces being performed for our concert. I would discuss the various demands, techniques, styles, and performance considerations ensemble members should address. Send the ensemble members links to quality performances of each work to use as a practice tool.
Assessment: Require that each student make a video performing the sections discussed for the week accompanied by either a recording or a metronome. Submit weekly.
Feedback: Provide timely feedback to each student so they can make necessary improvements in their playing.
Andrew D. Koch, University of Virginia
To my students:
We will create a composition together, remotely, from home.
You may play this on your own instrument or what you have available. Orchestration details TBD.
You’ll be given a series of tonal “cells” (duration indicated by number of seconds) within which to work. Each cell will have certain stylistic/dynamic/mood characteristics and specific pitch groups. You may notate or improvise, but you’ll need to stay within the parameters for each cell. It will be good for you to be able to replicate your part as my plan will be to perform this live on campus when we return.
I’ll ask you to video your progress and cell performances, and I’ll collect the videos via a DropBox address.
In addition to the resulting creative work, we will create a video documentary of the process.
Working title… “Virus.”
Patrick Reynolds, University of Dayton
If it is only temporary, I think I could, based on memory, rehearsal recordings, etc. select excerpts for each instrument to record and send back to me; Also this could possibly be done through Skype or FaceTime or Zoom Room. It seems that could become a scheduling/organization nightmare, however.
I am also teaching conducting and have concerns about some of the videos that I had planned to show (which are not available through live streaming). Instead, I can see the works whose scores are on IMSLP and perhaps choose two or three different conductors who conduct the work (or a movement of the work) and ask students to analyze and compare. Then I would ask students to partner up with one other student to film them conducting – virtual orchestra, just singing some of the main parts and rhythms to bring g to the fore, and speak out preps and cues and dynamic gestures – letting their brain talk out loud its thoughts.
Can you include on this thread ideas for basic instrumental conducting classes as well as symphonic band rehearsals?
The conducting students were going to work with the concert band in live rehearsals and now that may not happen….
Joan Haaland Paddock, Linfield College
Our situation is different…no music majors, no minors, and it is likely that most of our players left their instruments here on campusl. So, we will move our concert dates later in the term, and in the meantime be operating as follows:
a) all of the nonstudents/community members in my group will meet in my garage weekly to keep the music fresh;
b) enrolled students will do a little research on John Cage and his aesthetic that led to the idea for 4’33”;
c) all my students did take their hands home with them…so, it is time to advance everyone’s rhythmic reading capability, using the book “Just Rhythms” by Joel Rothman. Video submissions. As a bonus, we will have an optional Tuplet Gala, in which students will video and submit their best 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 5:3, etc… and compete for a prize to be awarded when we meet again.
James Latten, Juanita College
I’m planning to offer 2-3 options to my (primarily non-music major) students to complete as an independent project. Ideas at the moment are a virtual band performance of some kind (including projecting it at a concert in the future, either later this spring or next fall), a “digital concert review” of recorded performances… perhaps a combination of livestreams of schools still meeting, uploaded performances on YouTube, past performances in our own archive, etc… and a chamber/solo review that matches up students, ideally at complimentary institutions, and asks them to critique and coach each other’s playing (via an online video conferencing platform).
-Matt Sadowski, UC Berkeley
From today’s NAfME digest (3/11):
They didn’t prepare us for this in music school! How do we keep teaching and figure out how to do it while everything around us is changing so fast?
Just in case you weren’t busy and stressed enough at this time of year, now you have a whole new set of variables to deal with as the coronavirus spreads across the planet and everyone is figuring out this new scenario.
And you don’t get to stop and take time to figure out how to solve the problems of lost rehearsal time, missed performances, cancelled trips, and non-refundable money that the families in your community will lose if trips are cancelled because you have the undaunting task of continuing to teach the students who show up (if you’re still in school), create online content to replace what you would normally teach in person (I bet you can’t wait to try those on-line ensemble rehearsals), and keep your students safe and calm amongst all the confusion.
You have to continue offering a quality music experience for your students in spite of the circumstances, but figuring out how to do that while you’re spending six or more hours a day teaching is a bit overwhelming.
Since these circumstances are so new and unique and things are changing by the minute, it’s really hard to know what to do.
A situation like this can cause strain on individuals and on your program. It’s that time of year when our students are selecting classes for next year, and if they are feeling let down about cancelled events and we as teachers don’t handle it properly, it will impact their willingness to sign up for future trips and maybe even determine if they want to sign up for your class again next year. I’m not saying that’s the right response, but it’s one that could occur and impact your program long after the virus is gone.
Instead of lying awake at night wondering how you’re going to navigate all this, I invite you to join me on Saturday, March 14 at 9:00 am PST for a webinar where I will share ideas to help you:
* Communicate with parents and students about changes for activities and events
* Ensure you have a plan so your recruiting numbers thrive even if your recruiting activities are cancelled
* Come up with ideas for teaching music when attendance is unpredictable and you don’t even know if you’ll have a chance for kids to perform what they learn
* Make sure you have the tools you need to stay healthy in spite of being exposed to a cesspool of germs every day!
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a lot of ideas based on what I’ve learned in over 30 years as a high school band director. I’d like to share those ideas and offer to help with some concrete suggestions that will help you do things like get your recruiting done even if your tours to middle schools are cancelled and share ideas for ways to communicate with families so you maintain their trust even if you have to deal with difficult situations that include nonrefundable trip fees.
As music teachers, we are natural leaders. We can step up and lead our students, schools, and communities through this crisis by remaining calm and being the force for sensibility and stability. Our students are looking to us for more than just musical instruction – they are counting on us to keep them safe and to tell them the truth. Let’s be the leaders they need so they don’t need to live in fear. We can be prepared to show them they can trust us to provide them with the best outcome possible.
I plan to assign some fundamentals for video submission and assign some writing of program notes as well as some online videos to watch and comment on. It’s looking like we may not get back on campus this semester.
Amy McGlothlin, Fitchburg State