The Beat Goes On: UMSL’s Music Department Begins In-Person Classes
Nothing about our day-to-day lives is the same as it was just a year ago. While most of us have been inconvenienced, however, we have adapted, finding new ways to go about work, school, and spending time with friends and family, but how does a school band adapt? How can a choir of nearly 50 students find a way to learn, rehearse, and perform their music together? These are questions the UMSL music department has been working diligently to find answers to this semester.
Before this fall semester began, the music department made the decision for all courses were going to be done virtually. Whitney Cairns, a lecturer of ear-training and aural skills, has shared some of the challenges virtual learning presents to a music department. Zoom and most other video meeting programs do not have very effective music features. There is latency, or lag between voices, making it very difficult for students to sing or play music together. Students are accustomed to singing in front of one another and being able to receive peer and teacher feedback, which is an element of the learning process that they haven’t been able to get virtually. Cairns explained that while there have been challenges involved with virtual learning, there has also been a silver lining. “The students are able to be submitting their homework regularly online and getting a lot more detailed feedback. Usually, I have to grade them on the fly, but now I can say ‘Okay, here are a bunch of things that you can work on all at once,’ and they’re diligent students, and they take that feedback and go back and work it into their daily routine.”
Sophie Loban, UMSL student and President of the University Singers Choir, echoed Cairn’s sentiments. Loban stated that music theory and other non-performance-based classes have had no problem, but practicing and performing together has been an issue, citing the latency issue with Zoom and other programs. They have been able to mitigate some of these issues with a program called Jamulus, that minimizes the lag time and has allowed them to rehearse virtually in sections. It is not the same as rehearsing in person an entire choir, but it has at least allowed them to learn the music.
While the non-performance-based classes will remain strictly virtual for the time being, the performance-based classes have recently begun to meet in person again. The University Singers Choir, which consists of around 50 students, would normally practice together on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They have currently been divided into three sections of around 15 students per section for rehearsals that are taking place in the Lee Theatre at the Touhill Center. These in-person rehearsals require six feet of distancing between students and special singer’s masks that each of the students are required to wear. These masks are shaped a little different from a normal mask, with a bigger front to allow the singer’s voices to be louder and project more without being muffled like a normal mask. Other health and safety procedures include periodically clearing out the room, sanitizing it, and giving it time to air out before more students can enter.
With concert venues not allowing audiences, the music department has had to find other ways for their ensembles to perform. The Touhill has transformed all their concert spaces into live streaming spaces that have already been put to use. On September 25th they live-streamed a student jury honors concert, where all students who received top grades last semester performed in the Lee Theatre. “I’m really happy that we can actually have a concert at the end of this, because I think it’s a true testament to all the work we’ve put in this semester and how difficult it’s been, and I think that it will really make it seem worth it. I think that with a strong leader like Dr. Jim Henry, he really made sure that we were able to have a concert at the end. I’m really thankful that we have Dr. Henry, and this administration, he’s cleared a path for us to have a concert,” Loban stated.
All of the live-streamed and pre-recorded performances from UMSL’s music department can be found at umsl.edu.music/live and you can follow the Facebook group “University Singers” or the Instagram page @Umsl_choirs for live-streamed performances and information about upcoming events.