The Sound of Virtual Music

The music department is successfully navigating the challenges that come with COVID-19 and virtual learning, including those surrounding virtual performances and rehearsals, class participation and enthusiasm, and instrument distribution.

Music is meant to be performed in front of crowds with family and friends cheering you on. However, this year, the annual Choral Winter Concert is scheduled to be held virtually at the end of January and students are upset. They can’t demonstrate their talent in front of the live audiences that give them so much energy and validate their hard work in rehearsal. Rehearsing for this virtual concert, however, may be even more difficult than performing in front of no audience. 

In person, students can work off their teachers’ cues, match classmates’ tempos, and time their parts perfectly. With members of the choir now contending with lagging Zooms and poor internet connections, getting timing on point is harder than ever. Being in harmony is virtually impossible. 

During emergency instruction last spring, the A Cappella class tried to sing together as a group over Zoom, but they realized Zoom rehearsals were too logistically challenging. Their voices weren’t syncing and A Cappella teacher Sandra Zinkievich had to come up with a new way to run the class. A Cappella, a class that is all about coming together and singing as one, was now forced to have students learn their individual parts at home in isolation. Every member of the choir now has to sing individually on mute while Mrs. Zinkievich plays the piano for them. A Cappella is a collective group and these times have forced them to break apart and essentially learn on their own. The A Cappella students, however, have gotten used to the online format. Mrs. Zinkievich began assigning more sight-reading assignments, which has brought a different feel to the class. Sight-reading is very important to honing musical abilities and virtual learning has given students more time to practice this essential skill. 

Teachers in different music electives have also begun to sight-read more often. As Chorus and Guitar teacher Kris Zinkievich puts it, “If you can’t read anything on the page, you are kind of limited in what you can do.” They have also begun to delve deeper into their music theory books.  Once used for a weekly assignment, music theory books are  now being used more frequently. The class has become more informational and technical despite less singing taking place. Still aiming to put on a quality virtual concert, however, the students have been tasked with practicing singing and breathing techniques on their own.

A Cappella Student Jillian Kabik says, “I love the vibe of the Winter Choral Concert. It sucks that last year was my last one in person.” She’s not only speaking for herself, but for the other seniors who are in the same situation. This year, seniors will most likely have to turn to pre-recorded videos to put on their finale. These recordings will have to be looked over by the teachers of each music class and those teachers will have to make sure everyone’s tone matches.

The returnees to the music department have been doing well in virtual learning. They know the expectations that the teacher has for them and they do as instructed. The freshmen, however, have been struggling to get involved. 

Mr. Zinkievich says, “I feel bad for the freshmen who have never taken chorus before.” Without the intimidation factor of being surrounded by returnees, the freshman have not stepped their game up. They, unfortunately, aren’t familiar with any of the teachers or students in their class, which is making it hard for them to get involved. 

Additionally, this year there will be no cluster concert. Along with the Winter Choral Concert, the Winter Instrumental Concert is scheduled for the end of January. To prepare, the teachers have come together to have all the students from choral and instrumental classes have one piece of music ready by the end of January. Despite all the adjustments to classes being made, teachers are still confident that they’ll have a piece ready by the end of January. Band and Orchestra teacher Jon Eising says, “My students will be ready to perform by the end of January.” They are planning on doing a virtual concert where each ensemble has one part to perform, which is completely different from having separate concerts that are packed with friends and family. 

The amount of students who will select musical electives for next year may diminish. The experience current students are having is nothing near the experience that they would have at school, which could cause students to misjudge certain music electives. In the music department, students are always working together, building relationships, and teaching one another. Not having those three components can easily discourage students to think otherwise about choosing a music elective. 

However, this shouldn’t discourage students from entering music classes. The chorus is a big family that welcomes everyone interested. Also, if you’re interested in playing an instrument as a quarantine hobby, taking an instrumental music class is a good way to test the waters. Mr. Zinkievich emphasizes, “Before you go spend the money to buy an instrument, take the class because you might find you love it or you might find you hate it, but you’ll never know until you try.” 

The music department works hard to provide the best music education possible for their students, as can be seen by their effort in September to ensure every student could participate in virtual music education.  A survey was done to determine how many students needed instruments in case they could not afford to rent one. According to the survey, three out of four  students needed a guitar and the rest had one already. Blake was able to distribute instruments to all the students that needed one for free. 

Mr. Eising, Mr. Zinkievich, and Mrs. Zinkievich have done a phenomenal job helping their students improve their musical skills virtually. Not all problems can be easily solved, but these teachers have fought through the circumstances and have still been able to connect with their students. They’ve been able to adjust and the students’ love for music is still present. 

Senior Josh Mims states, “Blake teachers have found a way to make learning fun yet still as informative as it was when we were in person.”

The music department is one of the many departments having to adjust to virtual learning. With our great teachers’ support, the students will still be able to thrive amid COVID-19.