The New Reality

Teaching music during COVID. As predicted, students are dropping out of my ensemble. We lost three today, and my top two musicians are now fully remote What was one ensemble is split into two based on the alphabet. One rehearsal a week, one remote class a week. It is almost October and each cohort has only played as a group twice. These two sessions went fairly well but were hampered by the tech requirements needed to zoom in the students that were in the other two rooms. We can’t all fit in the music room so some students had to zoom in from the practice rooms. I discovered their skill levels within the first rehearsal and identified about 5-6 students that were complete beginners or rusty from not playing for 6 months.; you know the casual musician that really only plays when class. I have several.

Students can’t really hide as they sometimes could in a large ensemble. There are fewer students, sections of one, and spaced far apart so they sound like they are playing all alone. We started with warm-ups and then learned a simple melody by ear. In the first remote session, We had them record the melody we learned by ear. I laid down a piano track with a little rhythmic groove so they could play on top of it. I encouraged harmonization but did not require it. Some kids loved it, others not so much. Having to play at home wasn’t part of their plans I guess. This makes it even harder to move forward if there is no engagement at home. I gave points in a grade book if they submitted anything. Zeros for nothing turned in. Freaked a few kids out and work started coming in. What is the value of accountability? Hmmm. The three I lost today all did not do the assignments. Makes sense. To me, they denied themselves an opportunity to play with music. It makes me wonder what they are looking for in music. I attempted to teach them about “flow” or what is coined “being in the zone.” Why do we lose our sense of time when we are having fun? The challenge matches the skill in pursuit of connecting to something greater than your current self. No challenge, no skill, no fun. All the world is a video game. I feel that we need to search for that state of flow ... this needs to be the goal. How can we find joy playing music? If you want to learn that, stick around, if not, sorry. Performances for the public are not possible. Another carrot lost. It has to be about the ‘now.’ Every rehearsal is in pursuit of flow. Let find that magic that happens on stage...but in every time we play.

If you managed to actually read this, you just took a little journey into my reality. After a long career of building programs for students, it is hard to see it all change and not see the losses. Watch kids choose to not even have just a little music in their lives saddens me. I can’t take it personally, or maybe I should... I am not sure. Every lost student means I did not reach them. I said to Julie this morning that teaching feels like you are juggling sharp knives with one hand, got a computer mouse in another, all while being surrounded by 60 puppies, both trained and untrained. Try to get all the little pooches to work together or alone, then throw dog bones on the floor. Oh my. Someone draw a pic of that terrible analogy and send it to me. With all that said, or written, there are many victories each day. Countless. I welcome the challenge. Could have done without the Lyme disease though.

Art work by: Carolina Ellenbogen

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