Photo courtesy of Rushil Umaretiya
An orchestra teacher’s worst nightmare is complete silence. After all, for students playing in an orchestra, communication between each musician is key.
So when COVID-19 disrupted the state of the standard classroom, music classes had to overcome many obstacles. Orchestra is a group activity, yet students are unable to play in groups the same way that they could before.
Despite the many claims that online learning is unable to respond to the individual needs of students, Orchestra teacher Allison Bailey and Jefferson students have found ways to make their practice sessions successful, utilizing sectional practices, video submissions, and live demonstrations.
Assignments in class are divided into a three-day cycle. On day one, students are assigned new material by instrument. On day two, students have freedom to practice on their own, and they can choose to seek help from Bailey. On day three, students will either perform their assignments one on one with Bailey or turn in a video submission.
Bailey feels optimistic about the current online orchestra dilemma, and throughout the year she has been actively responding to students’ feedback about class structure. She now believes that they have reached “the optimal structure for online TJ Orchestra.”
“I think Ms. Bailey is doing a pretty darn good job with what she was given, we still have a generally enjoyable time in class, she’s still able to monitor everyone’s progress relatively okay, and she makes herself extremely available to anyone who needs help,” sophomore Rushil Umaretiya said.
Senior Reva Hirave understands the challenges that orchestra students have to go through. “Online learning with orchestra is hard, since there is no way for us to play in groups together,” Hirave said. “We practice our individual parts, but that’s nowhere close to the feeling of making music with around 50 other people.”
Bailey sees that this is especially true for freshmen or students taking the class for the first time. “The students tell me the biggest challenge they face in general is not being able to make friends or connect with friends easily,” Bailey said.
For Hirave, this is her fourth year taking Orchestra, while Umaretiya says that this year is his first. Both of them feel disappointed that there is no way for everyone to play together as a group on an online platform.
But even though COVID-19 has affected their practice time in class, it hasn’t affected their practice time at home. They have no difficulties submitting assignments and participating in class, and they feel Bailey has done her best to make Orchestra successful despite the unusual circumstances.
While the online orchestra dilemma has proved to be challenging, Bailey appreciates how flexible and responsive the students have been.
“The only thing that could be done better is something that is impossible to achieve virtually, and that is to play together as an orchestra. Students are making tremendous progress individually and are doing all they can in this virtual setting. I’m very proud of them. Whenever school starts again and the orchestra is able to join together, it is going to be spectacular because each of them will be an even better musician due to their hard work during distance learning.”