With Broadway’s recent statement to remain closed until 2021, the Emmy Award ceremony, held completely virtual, and the cancelled concerts of artists around the world, many are starting to wonder when and if live music will be possible. Here at Bergen County Academies, COVID-19 has most certainly had its effects especially on our musical performances.
Interaction is a key element of playing music, whether with other musicians or with the audience. Due to the pandemic, all interactions must be virtual now, which is severely limiting: technology can only take music so far, and nothing matches the thrill of a live performance. The ambiance of a performance cannot be conveyed exactly through the Internet, and what used to be crowds of people applauding has now been replaced by a clapping emoji. Even more, wind and brass players are still struggling to find a safe solution for playing together in-person. With all these setbacks from the pandemic, musicians all around the world are faced with the question: what now?
Enter the music department at BCA that has found solutions to get around these new problems. For classes like Musicians Workshop, where students build their own instruments, they were asked to pick up materials after school, while all instructions were given virtually over Zoom. As for Senior Music Seminar, a class where seniors in the AVPA-Music academy each build their own guitar, students meet outside after school to complete the hands-on work like taping and painting their instruments.
Mr. Lemma, the director of the music department, shared that this new style of teaching music online has also made music courses more accessible to students. New courses like History of Rock Music were opened, which is taught remotely via audio files, video clips, class discussions and presentations. Additionally, with the convenience of Zoom, Mr. Lemma shared that he was able to attend many more meetings and workshops virtually than he normally would.
“Almost every single student decided to stay on board in Orchestra, Guitar & Mandolin Orchestra, Jazz Band and a few other courses,” Mr. Lemma said. “We were still able to meet as if it were a class and make progress. In the end, we created the Spring Concert video.” Last Spring, BCA was able to hold the Spring Concert Virtually as well as this year’s Tri-M Induction Ceremony in the beginning of October. As for the remainder of trimester one, Mr. Lemma shared that he plans to hold the Autumn Concert Virtually as well.
As video editing and recordings have become a huge part of virtual performances, new programs like Soundtrap and Final Cut Pro X are also being explored. Soundtrap is a cloud-based recording and music production platform which allows students to collaborate on music projects in real time.
Another useful tool that Mr. Lemma uses for video editing and compiling virtual projects and concerts is Final Cut Pro X. “As we return to normalcy, I’ll still continue using programs like Soundtrap and Final Cut Pro to enhance our learning experiences at BCA. In fact, we just received a one-year educational license for Soundtrap, so the commitment is there for our campus as well as Applied Tech, where I also teach.” Traces of the pandemic will still be left behind even after it passes because many of these virtual options are extremely convenient and will still be available.
Soomin Kim, a senior in the AVPA Music Academy also shared her experiences at Curtis Summerfest, which was held virtually this year. “Personally, the energy and the environment of summer camps that I value the most were unable to be replicated in a virtual setting despite numerous efforts such as having virtual game nights and other activities.”
Soomin also shared the challenges of having to play with others over Zoom. “The sound quality produced by zoom is not as nearly the same as being in person. In addition, technology is not able to encompass all the angles, rather it is limited to one angle that the camera points at. Therefore, teachers are unable to efficiently explain all the technical aspects and musical aspects of music performance.”
Despite the restrictions of the virtual setting, Soomin shared that she was still able to learn new aspects of performance that would not have come up if everything was live. She mentioned new techniques such as relying on a metronome, rather than on sound in order to coordinate playing together over Zoom.
Soomin also said that the lessons she learned through virtual camp will still be useful for future live performances even after COVID-19. “It has made me consider other ways I can express my musical ideas without taking time that can interfere with the coordination with other members and made me explore ideas that I had not previously come across. Even when COVID goes away, I believe that these lessons and ideas will be important to the way I perform.”
With all of these new changes happening to musicians around the world, more than ever, people are starting to realize the value of human interaction. “The most important thing I learned is the human need to have social contact with each other,” said Mr. Lemma, “and how much the kids really missed being together in the colorful and happy home we created in the music program.”
He also shared his hopes that even after COVID-19 passes, the virtual option for performances will still remain: “Although nothing will ever take the place of a live performance and the energy of the audience, I hope that certain activities will be readily available as a virtual option for those who might not be able to be present on location.”
Mr. Lemma added: “I hope students will see that we can persevere, even with challenges presented by the pandemic. I hope that I made a small impact in demonstrating that ‘we’re all in this together’ and through teamwork we can move forward and still create meaningful, authentic experiences.” He wishes that students can make the most out of the current situations, even if it might not have been what most people were expecting.
Many students were able to use this pandemic as a new opportunity for special experiences like Zoom concerts. The AVPA Music students in the Class of 2023, current sophomores, put together a virtual performance for local nursing homes in Bergen County for the elderly to brighten up their mood and provide healing through their music. Although the pandemic has hurt so many people physically, mentally and emotionally, solutions to overcome the difficulties from COVID-19 were found with the help of technology, ingenuity, and a good heart.