Last March, I was sitting in the auditorium at Wake Forest University with my choral students when the world shut down. We were participating in the Music Performance Adjudications (MPA) sponsored by the choral section of the North Carolina Music Educators Association (NCMEA). The annual event is something that choral, orchestral, and band ensembles across North Carolina look forward to and spend months preparing to perform for judges who give a score and comment on their performance.
My students had prepared and perfected two songs for the event — and they were able to perform and receive their score. Many students across the state were not so lucky.
On the beautiful spring day, NCMEA leadership made the decision to shut down all events for the year. It was a good decision. We were not sure about this new virus — and school systems were closing schools and forbidding student travel. But, it was a great disappointment to many students and teachers in areas where the MPA events were cancelled due to COVID.
I felt — along with many of my colleagues — like a brand new teacher. All I had known and felt comfortable doing was redefined in one day. My world was flipped upside down. But, like always, music teachers showed their resilience, their flexibility, and their unfailing commitment to students.
They spent hours searching the internet for lesson plan ideas; they watched multiple webinars on the best technology for music education; they attended Zoom room chats with other music educators to share best practices; but, most of all, they were there with their students every single day helping them through this trying time and giving them the social and emotional skills needed to cope during the pandemic.
Music teachers are unique in that they teach the same students for multiple years. We know their families, and because of that the community built in the music room extends beyond the classroom walls. Those established relationships have been the key to our success through the pandemic.
How do you teach students music remotely?
The North Carolina K-12 Essential Standards include competencies that are not necessarily performance based. Many teachers leaned into those standards and taught students music theory and history lessons, explored the music of other cultures, times, and places, and introduced students to a world of possibilities for music careers.
Teachers across the state produced outstanding virtual performances in an attempt to make this time as normal as possible for students and parents. Virtual performances are a beautiful way of making music together during this time of isolation, but require a steep learning curve for students who are accustomed to singing in a group setting and require many extra hours of work for teachers.
One virtual choir production can take nearly 50 hours for a music teacher to edit and synchronize audio and video submissions. Students have struggled with the technology to record and submit their performance videos. My students reported that they felt exposed and nervous about sharing audio of solo singing recorded in isolation of other choir members and producing videos that could be shown to the world through shared links.
In a world of social media, students appear comfortable with sharing their lives publicly. In March 2020, music teachers found that those social media “skills” did not transfer to choir, band, and orchestra. A year later, students have recorded themselves enough that they feel better about the process.
Certainly, they have learned a lot about technology and improved their production skills. See a collaborative virtual choir below made by six choirs from Kernersville, North Carolina. The video was made in the fall of 2020.