In light of the extensive degree to which history has demonstrated music’s potential for interdisciplinary and cultural enrichment, music education in schools today does not find itself in as central a position as one might hope; so it is important that distance learning not result in more intensely marginalized music programs. The primary setback is technological; most video-conferencing applications are not conducive to music as a synchronized and collectively performative activity. But let us not succumb to this obstacle, instead remembering that students’ progress in Music is still very much a reality. Below I reference a few local examples and offer my brief two cents on the matter.
Before COVID-19, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s educational outreach program Simply Strings was a bowed-string–instrument ensemble program that met two hours a day, five days a week. It is now a half-hour music-appreciation class once a week for third-grade students only. While this is objectively disappointing, it is certainly good news to hear that the same Symphony’s in-school performance program offers videos of each instrument family of the orchestra in action. Other examples of audio and instructional outlines being distributed to local schools is, relative to an ensemble class, quite easy to continue unhindered.
Petaluma High School has converted ensembles into private-lesson sessions over video call. In terms of an effort to preserve the participatory aspect, this seems like a good thing. However, the problem of asynchronicity remains. It is not hopeless though. Let us celebrate the fact that the synchronized, interactive side of music is not an altogether lost cause in this day and age. Some have been able to play live to a certain degree of success. In terms of the educational process and how performance can help it along, recordings may be more help than meets the eye.
Recordings alone are not the answer, but they do play a central role in keeping performative musical skills progressing. The instructor must be crystal clear with regard to the purpose of the recording. Is it a play-along track? An accompaniment part or lead part, to one of which the student provides the other? A call and response? The practicality of the recording must be explained and exemplified with the lesson during which the coming week’s practice is assigned.
The follow-up to the previous week’s instruction must consist of a check-in on how the student has been employing the recording. This module is quite useful in situations where in-person instruction is a reality as well. With a guiding recording particular to the current projects in hand, the student is able to create music in a quite authentic sense, and instructors have a way of holding their pupils to account on exactly what they expect them work on. There is much more to be said about how one might steer music education toward or away from current trends and limitations, but harnessing the power of a useful practice recording can make a significant difference in filling the performance void that, these days, opens all too easily.