WENHAM — Many schools across the country have had to learn to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures, and online learning. While subjects such as calculus and English are easier to shift to online learning, the arts have more of a challenge.
Performing arts, such as theatre and music, are presumed to be stuck in limbo, with no way to really learn their craft. However, these programs are also finding unique ways to adapt.
Taunia Soderquist, Diector of Music at The Academy Penguin Hall Girls Preparatory High School, was kind enough to answer some questions about her experience teaching music in a remote learning format.
When asked what methods Academy Penguin Hall has been using, Soderquist revealed that their methods are similar to what Tewksbury Memorial High School has been using.
“Our school, The Academy at Penguin Hall, has been utilizing both Google Classrooms and Zoom to continue our education from a distance learning perspective.”
Of course, these methods present their own unique challenges, as she explains:
“Music class poses a particular challenge as internet speeds are not capable of allowing full rehearsals online. Because of this, we're utilizing popular apps like ‘Acapella’ which allow all of my students to log in, record their parts, and practice together. Additionally, we have a larger focus on music theory and ear training, which my students have been really wonderful about. They enjoy learning the language of music and continuing to supplement their musicality.”
However, Soderquist also elaborated on how these challenges have made her and her students resilient.
“Distance learning is new to almost all of us. While I have had one-to-one online lessons before, I have never taught an entire class online. It has forced both me and my students to rise to the challenge and try new ways of learning. I'm happy to say that we've all risen to the challenge.”
Like many other students, Soderquist talks about how her pupils have been nervous during the COVID-19 crisis, and prides in the fact that their school helps the students combat this to keep things as normal as possible.
“We are VERY conscious about how the lack of every day community is affecting our students. We address this daily. Some students are thriving while others struggle a bit with the discipline of monitoring themselves at home. Overall, our students have been amazing through this, and really open to new ideas and situations. While we all can certainly feel a bit of panic or anxiety about the situation, I think that our school has been amazing about keeping a regular schedule and keeping things as normal as possible for our students during this time.”
However, it’s not just the students who are nervous. Soderquist also explains how she is feeling as an educator during this shift.
“Honestly, my first reaction was a bit of panic because I know that groups cannot be rehearsed online. However, I've reached out to numerous online educator communities as well as taken some online courses to help guide me through this process. We had a Spring Concert planned for May 15, which obviously cannot happen. My response to that was to create a hybrid online concert with some pre-recorded pieces from my classes and live performances from our graduating seniors. The students seem really excited about it, and I'm incredibly proud that we've found a workable solution.”
Students have also had to deal with event cancellations they have been looking forward to, Soderquist stated.
“As of right now, the State of Massachusetts has schools quarantined until May 4, with an unseeable future. Obviously, this affects things like our spring concert, graduation, and sadly, our school was a semi-finalist in Dramafest, which has been indefinitely postponed.”
Soderquist also provided some guidance for performing educators who are stressed about this transition to online learning.
“My advice is simple: it's never a bad thing to go back to basics. Teaching music theory and ear training during this time is invaluable. Also, don't be afraid to try new things. There are plenty of apps and resources for conducting virtual choirs and bands. It can be done. If you love what you do, you'll find a way to make it happen.”
Soderquist would like to see more teachers take advantage of technology to combat school cancellations.
“I think this is an incredible time for students to learn about technology, online recording, and resourcefulness. It's disappointing to me to see so many schools not continuing online studies. I am extremely proud of The Academy at Penguin Hall for rising to the challenge. We have so many amazing, brilliant, and creative teachers, and that can be seen in the way we deliver our curriculum to our students every day.”
She also provided helpful websites for students who are studying performing arts.
“For those students who don't have access to their teachers, there are a number of amazing and free online programs to utilize. For music theory and ear training, there's musictheory.net, harmonia.illiacsoftware.com, tonedear.com, earmaster.com, and online.berklee.edu/free-music-course-resource.”
Finally, Soderquist imparts some wisdom to performing arts students who are stressed about how they will continue their education online.
“There are always ways to continue your education online. If you've gone beyond the basics, you can check out sites like coursera.org, udemy.com, and khanacademy.com for more advanced and very specific music disciplines. There are a number of groups on Facebook and Instagram, etc, where you can continue to perform and collaborate with others. Use this time to continue to be the best musician you can. There's so much music to make and so many places where you can make it. Be creative, be thoughtful, and be inventive. You'll be proud of yourself for finding ways to continue to create!”