The high school orchestra during an elective session. (Photo by Maria Hoyos)

Music teachers experiment during online learning

Despite the COVID-19 lockdown and remote learning on Zoom, students are still performing music at SCDS. However, online learning provides new challenges for these students

Director of High School Bands Bob Ratcliff expressed his concerns about playing on Zoom.

 “A very important aspect of playing in a large ensemble is listening to the people around you,” Ratcliff said. “When we do things distance-wise it is very difficult to do that.”

Ratcliff compared Zoom music lessons to learning to ride a bike online.

“Taking online spin classes may help someone become a better bicycle rider,” Ratcliff said. “But it’s not the same as actually riding a bicycle. You’re not out in the elements and you’re not getting rained on. Music is a similar concept.”

Choir, orchestra and chamber music teacher Maria Hoyos has faced similar problems. 

“We have to adapt and be creative,” Hoyos said.

“I use an online program called SmartMusic. I have my students practice scales and technique and record their own parts there,” she said.

Ratcliff also has assigned a similar project to his jazz band. He has each of his students record their own solo performances by recording all the parts of the piece and putting them together in GarageBand.

Junior Craig Bolman plays alto saxophone for the SCDS jazz band and clarinet in the concert band.

“I’ve never used GarageBand, but I am excited to record the different tracks and play around with it,” Bolman said. “I think it’ll be interesting to see how the different parts line up together.”

Both teachers hope to put together a video combining students playing their parts as a substitution for the annual performances and concerts that have yet to be scheduled.

To practice, Hoyos shadow-plays with her class in Zoom. She has students mute their mics and play along in the background.

“It is a fun experience watching each other play without sound,” she said.

Like Hoyos, Ratcliff has his concert students play during the Zoom meeting. But his jazz band classes serve as check-in periods to discuss topics such as music recordings and theory. 

 “I like the way Ratcliff is doing it in concert where we have individual breakout rooms organized by instruments,” Bolman said. “But it wouldn’t really work in our jazz band since there’s only eight of us.”

Ratcliff also has spent time over the summer researching ways for his bands to play together.

One of Ratcliff’s ideas in planning was getting his band students to play together by social distancing six feet apart in a wide circle.

“I’m looking at what’s happening around the rest of the country,” he said. “I’m finding something that makes sense and would be acceptable at our school.”

Hoyos had been preparing over the summer as well. She took a Global Online Academy summer course on teaching students. She learned strategies on how to set up audio devices online. 

Hoyos also planned for her string and piano students to play together soon, but she said wind instruments and choir will have to wait since singing or blowing into instruments can cause aerosol dispersion.

Ratcliff and Hoyos are still in an experimental stage, trying new ways to make music lessons more engaging. 

“We have to get creative and try to do our best,” Hoyos said. “It’s not ideal for music, but we have to adjust in hopes that we can get together.”

— By Garman Xu

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