Performing arts implement innovative programs for remote learning

Due to COVID-19, the performing arts program has had to make significant changes to its curriculum, methods of collaboration and performances. Teachers have had to change their curriculums and look into new online programs to allow students to continue performing and collaborating together in a digital medium. 

Rock Band teacher James Harman has changed the curriculum of the class significantly in a remote setting. Previously, in-person class time would be spent exclusively on student bands working individually from the rest of the class. Now, remote class time is split between lectures explaining different elements of the music industry, as well as band work time. 

“This year I want to spend more time teaching the kids and giving more lectures about music theory, and a bunch of different subjects that are important for music students,” Harman said. “I’ve been putting way more time into the class than when we were meeting in person. It’s been more planned out.”

Other music classes have also had to adapt and change their curriculums to fit the online medium. 

“When we were in person it was much more ensemble geared in terms of music making,” Music Director Allison McIvor said. “Now, it’s much more individualistic. There are lots of practice studies, and technical studies.”

To employ these practices and technical studies, teachers have begun using online programs and websites which focus on specific elements of music making.

“I’ve been using this program called SmartMusic,” McIvor said. “It’s another web based program which has a plethora of literature that students can investigate and play with. It can be used as a really good resource for checking notes and rhythms.”

Choir and Musical Theater teacher Emily Gates has also employed new online learning tools into her curriculum.

“Music Boosters helped us buy an app called SightReadingFactory so everyone can learn at their own pace how to sight read better,” Gates said. “I think it’s helping a lot of the kids learn that skill.”

Teachers have also had to figure out a way to allow students to perform collaboratively remotely.

“Usually we just play through Zoom, but recently we’ve been looking into duets and trios,” freshman saxophonist Alex Solyanik said. “We sometimes use a website called SoundTrap.”

SoundTrap is a program that is being implemented into many of the music classes, as expanded upon by McIvor. 

“SoundTrap allows students to work together in a collaborative setting by recording and laying down tracks,” McIvor said. “They can collaborate and work together on a single project.”

Along with online programs, teachers have also had to figure out how to put on shows for classes such as Drama and Musical Theater. 

“Figuring out how to record and perform on a platform like Zoom is proving to be extremely challenging,” Drama Teacher Haley McFadden said. “We have to work a lot harder to connect with each other, and to make sure we are communicating really well. It’s so easy to get lost in translation when we are working through a screen.”

Even with these newfound challenges brought about by remote learning, the Drama class is planning on performing a show. 

“We are hoping to put together a fully student-produced, student-written play for the spring,” McFadden said. “We’re planning for it to be on a virtual platform.”

Since the play is planned to be entirely student-written and produced, Advanced Drama students have been working a lot more on writing.

“We’ve been looking more at the creative side,” Advanced Drama student Madison Brand said. “We’ve been working on writing plays. Earlier this year we wrote short plays that were around ten minutes long, and now we’re brainstorming for thirty minute long plays.”

The Drama class is still deciding on which direction to take their larger performances if they are to be on a virtual platform. 

“Either we’re going to have a play over Zoom, and it’s going to be specifically written for Zoom, or we’re each going to film a scene and somehow edit it all together,” Brand said. 

The Musical Theater class has a somewhat similar plan to the Drama Class. They are planning a virtual performance, which will be edited together.

“There is a show planned,” McIvor said. “We’re going to put a virtual ‘Broadway Through the Decades’ together. We’re hoping to incorporate lots of songs and dances.”

The Musical Theater program is still working on figuring out the specifics of the ‘Broadway Through the Decades’ show. 

“Right now we’re working on the group numbers,” Gates said. “What we’re probably going to do is use a greenscreen outside. We may end up recording some parts individually, as well. It’s going to be interesting to see how that will be put all together.”

In response to the new format of the Musical Theater show, junior and musical theater student Jack Covert shared an outcropping of support for the performing arts teachers and the program as a whole in its new remote medium. 

“I’m super excited,” Covert said. “You can tell that the teachers have been putting a lot of effort in, and I’m really appreciative because it’s going really well. I’m having a great time online. It’s definitely a different experience, but I think it’s still super fun, and I’m learning a lot.”

Instead of using the Emily Gates Performing Arts Center, pictured here, performing arts classes are holding their performances virtually

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