A New Tune

Music classes serve as another reminder of how different this school year is, but teachers and students alike are making the most of their limited opportunities.

Band+classes+now+typically+involve+students+sitting+socially+distanced+with+no+instruments+in+sight.

photo by Julia Poppa

Band classes now typically involve students sitting socially distanced with no instruments in sight.

Sally Cho, Staff Writer

Room 195, the Chorus Room, feels emptier this year. The students are still present, but the singing is gone, muted by the masks on their faces. In fact, the entire music curriculum has had to adapt in unusual ways as public health concerns remain at the forefront of district policies.

Both chorus and band classes have had to change the way they operate due to social distancing guidelines. With rules such as having to keep masks on at all times and having to stay six feet apart, singing or playing band instruments have become practically impossible. 

Teachers have had to rise to the occasion and come up with new lesson plans and activities for students to do during this time. Mr. Schmiech, the NASH choral director, found an alternative way to keep his students singing. 

“We are working from home using an app called SmartMusic that allows us to have some control over how we practice,” Schmiech said. “Of course, it doesn’t replace the feeling of working together as an ensemble, but it is a good tool for us to continue singing and getting some feedback as we learn repertoire.”

SmartMusic allows students to individually practice from their homes on their own time and submit recordings of themselves for their teacher to listen to. It also provides live feedback and gives students the freedom to adjust settings such as tempo and volume of the accompaniment for optimal practice. 

Schmiech has also come up with a creative project to give students the chance to work together during this time of isolation and distancing. Students are making a multitrack musical project in small groups using recording software such as Adobe Audition.  

“We’re trying to take advantage of the fact that we have some flexibility here, and we can explore some more modern ways of making music,” Schmiech said.

For junior Nicole Baker, this is an exciting opportunity.

“I like that we are able to work collaboratively with other students because in a lot of other classes that isn’t an option,” she said.

Although not being able to sing is disheartening, Schmiech and his students are carrying on with patience and a positive attitude.

“It’s an adjustment for sure. The classroom feels really different without making live music,” Schmiech said.  “Overall, I think we’re making the most of it.”

Junior Hannah Oldham echoed these sentiments.

“Singing in class and having a normal choir experience is something everyone misses, but there is some good that comes out of it,” she explained. “What we’re going through right now will make us appreciate the past normalcy of choir more.” 

“We’re trying to take advantage of the fact that we have some flexibility here, and we can explore some more modern ways of making music.”

— Mr. Schmiech, chorus teacher

Mr. Stefan, the NA Director of Bands, has had to make similar adjustments to classes and find new ways of learning.

As of now, I am trying to find material that will enhance the students’ playing once we do return to a performance rehearsal setting,” he said.

Band students watch videos in class on many band-related topics and concepts, such as music theory or different styles of music education.

“It was important for me that they not just do busy work that had no relevance to the class,” Stefan said. “I needed to look for material that would directly relate to the band rehearsal.”

Junior Sara Weller feels content with this new style of learning. 

I think what we are doing in class right now is beneficial,” she said. “Our goal during class is to address things that would normally occur during playing, so it should be helpful once we can get back to playing.”

However, some students feel that these altered music classes are just too different.

“To be honest, chorus from home just doesn’t work for me,” senior Faiz Iqbal said. “It feels more like a chore than the actual class.”

Although singing and playing in band is not possible right now, there are hopes that this could change as the school year progresses.

“It’s crucial that we have physical distance if we begin singing,” Schmiech said. “Within our cohort sizes, which for me are about 15 [students], I feel comfortable that we could spread out about ten feet apart in the room, leave masks on, and sing.”

Singing in class and having a normal choir experience is something everyone misses, but there is some good that comes out of it.”

— Hannah Oldham, junior

Stefan feels that accommodations can be made in band class, too, so that students will be able to play. 

“One possibility is the acquisition of bell covers for all the instruments. Bell covers act like a mask for the instrument, so to speak,” Stefan said. “We have not set a firm date as to when this might occur, but my fingers are crossed that it is soon.”

Although music education has faced serious challenges during this pandemic, teachers and students alike continue to adapt and adjust.

“I really appreciate that the Music Department did not shut off our learning considering this situation,” junior Cassandra Pultorak said. “If anything, I think we might be learning more in-depth than before.”