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Percussion, Pandemic, and Perseverance: Part 2

May 19, 2020, 12:04 PM by Hillary Henry

At PAS, one of the ways we are coming together to support each other during the pandemic is to show that we care. In collaboration with the associate editors of Percussive Notes, we are excited to offer the PAS membership a look inside how the percussion community is responding to COVID-19. We reached out to students, teachers, performers, industry leaders, and administrators, and compiled their thoughts, strategies, and responses to four thought-provoking questions that we hope will add value and clarity during this time of adversity. 

Thank you to contributing editors Gene Fambrough, Marching; Shane Jones, World; Dan Piccolo, Professional Development; Kurt Gartner, Technology; David Stanoch, Drumset; Brian Zator, Keyboard; and Lisa Rogers, Research & Vibraphone.

Very best,
Julie Hill and Paul Buyer, PAS Co-Editorial Directors

What worked and what didn't work as you adapted to the COVID-19 situation? 

STUDENTS

Clay Hoffner (freshman), Music Education major, Bowling Green State University
One of the biggest issues with this limited space is that all of my activities get jammed together. My chill time, practice time, and my work time are all taking place in the same room, and this ruins the effect of each. If I could put all of my practice materials in a basement or separate room, then the act of going somewhere else designed to practice might help psychologically.

Clay Hoffner Mary Emmons Kirsten Baker

Mary Emmons (junior), Bachelor of Music Performance, University of Tennessee at Martin
What didn't work was trying to do everything every day. At the initial start of this, and the start of my at-home practicing, I tried to practice everything I had and tried to work on every assignment. I quickly realized that doing that was super draining and near impossible. With schoolwork, I've taken the approach of completing assignments in the order that they are due and doing bigger projects little by little. 

With practice, there are some things I do every day. My focus area in lessons this semester has been Middle Eastern frame drumming, so I do that every day since I'm learning entirely new instruments and techniques. I also play through one to three pages of Stick Controlevery day to warm up. I work on different repertoire every other day so I don't wear my brain out before I get to the next thing on my list. After warming up, I'll either play Bach and orchestral excerpts or I'll play Miyake and work on improvising for my improvisation class. Limiting what I do each day and sticking to a schedule has definitely helped me adapt to being a functioning and productive student and musician from my own bedroom.

Kirsten Baker (junior), Psychology major, Furman University
I still struggle with finding a set time and place to practice at home. My older sister and my dad are having to work from home, and my mom has been doing things around the house as well. It is hard to know the who, what, when, and where every day because it is constantly changing. I still manage to squeeze in a little bit of practice time every day, but it is never at the same time or at the same intensity. However, what has worked is the flexibility I have had in learning my repertoire. I send in video recordings of run-throughs to Dr. Carmenates, but I have the ability to run through the pieces as many times as I need to before the “perfect” one is made.

Christine Mollenkopf (junior), Percussion student, Texas Tech University
Some days, just getting through the day was all that I could do, whereas other days I was just as productive as a normal school day. I am not a person who likes to plan out her day by the hour, but I do like to write down a list of tasks that I have to do and the due dates, if applicable. Keeping a better log of my assignments helped me send my lesson videos to Dr. Lisa Rogers and Professor Alan Shinn on time, making the days seem a little less stressful. Of course, procrastinating did not work and led to a few sleepless nights. I’m thankful that most of my classes still met at the same time in order to make sure that I was getting up at a reasonable hour and starting my day with collaboration between colleagues and professors.

Christine Mollenkopf Vedin Barve

Vedin Barve, Coppell (Texas) High School
What did work was trying to have a solid routine every day, especially now that time is less hectic from the student perspective. I don’t really think setting myself to a strict regimen is appropriate. I have taken this unexpected quarantine to be an exercise of spontaneity. I have a list of goals of what I am trying to do every day, but I am not strict on when I do them or when I don’t do them. Keeping an open schedule has provided me room for creativity when playing or arranging music. 

TEACHERS

Julie Davila, Middle Tennessee State University
I had one student taking marimba lessons who did not have access to an instrument. I found several online music sites that had games for improving note and interval recognition. We also wrote floor exercise “etudes” to go with some of his favorite songs. Another student only had a snare drum, sticks, and brushes, so we did a deep dive into brushes. We utilized several YouTube classes from Ed Soph, Peter Erskine, Clayton Cameron, and Steve Smith. Students handled the COVID crisis very differently. Some students lived with others and had built-in social support, while others lived alone. We progressed musically with our weekly lessons; however, I made sure to spend time just talking with them, checking in, and being an outlet for friendship.

Julie Davila Eric Willie Liam Teague

Eric Willie, Director of Percussion, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Students were given the option of synchronous (in person, normal weekly lesson time) or asynchronous (videos due at normal weekly lesson times, and feedback was returned to the student). I do not feel that asynchronous lessons are successful. As the lesson videos are recorded, often edited, and then uploaded to a cloud service (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) before submission, this often takes more time than the traditional lesson. Additionally, many of the online courses (outside of applied lessons and music ensembles) have given the students extra online content in an effort to cover topics traditionally discussed in class. Therefore, the students are also spending more time on their studies than if we were meeting in a traditional format. I think the synchronous meeting times are successful, and we will be keeping this format if such a demand occurs.

Liam Teague, Professor of Music and Head of Steelpan studies, Northern Illinois University
Thus far, most things seem to be working. The majority of students seem to be genuinely interested in the material that was sent and they responded enthusiastically. There have been students for whom online learning has been overwhelming, and their replies have not always been as passionate, but this is certainly understandable.

Molly Cryderman-Weber, PAS Scholarly Research Committee Chair, Performer, and Musicologist
I think everything "worked" in terms of giving students equitable opportunities to demonstrate mastery of the course learning outcomes. I had a small technical learning curve for the online teaching platform, as it had been a year since I last taught online and I had to refresh my memory on a few things. I had a couple of students "disappear" in the first week or so of the transition to online instruction; however, I was able to get them re-engaged and my students will likely all pass this semester.

On the other hand, at least half of my students let me know at some point in the past few weeks how much they missed our classroom community. The online experience wasn't at all equivalent to what we had in the classroom in terms of engagement, depth of discussions, and general interaction between students. 

Molly Cryderman Weber Dr. Kathleen Kastner Connor Pickle

Dr. Kathleen Kastner, Performer and Educator, Wheaton College Conservatory of Music
My percussion techniques class was problematic in that we had no access to instruments, whereas normally they would be playing on keyboards, drum set, hand drums, and accessories. I used a lot of videos, but I came away thinking that this clearly did not work for them. I made adjustments for the percussion pedagogy class and managed to cover resources and have some good discussions. Unfortunately, the private lessons they would normally teach in the second half of the semester obviously did not happen, which was a big loss for several of them. I may try to find opportunities for them to do that in another semester. Percussion Ensemble did not meet. Sadly, our spring concert date came and went by. I’m hoping to do the same ensemble repertoire for a fall 2020 concert. I held only half of our studio classes.

Connor Pickle, Percussion Director, Royse City ISD
Online learning does not replace the classroom experience, but rather enhances it. With that in mind, many students appreciate the ability to learn at their own pace and use the resources online to personalize their learning. They can re-watch instructional videos, practice with recordings, submit assignments online, and receive direct feedback. This has worked very well for students during this time of digital learning. We have had to be conscious about the students’ workload and ensure that they clearly understand the assigned content. Because of this, we only have one to two assignments per week, and students have the full week to complete their work. We have learned that students need brief, yet thorough, explanations about assignments. Too much text or lengthy videos are often overlooked or unfinished. Students experience many distractions while at home; therefore, our online instruction must be achievable, clearly communicated, and the appropriate length to ensure understanding of the content.

PERFORMERS

Sean Connors, Chicago, Illinois
One thing that we've found works really well is a live Q&A discussion via chat room during our live streams. We've been available to interact with audience members from all over the world simultaneously, which has been amazing and inspiring! We haven't yet figured out a way to musically collaborate in real time from different locations with multiple musicians in a reliable and musically satisfying manner, but perhaps this will be developed as a result of this whole experience. My fingers are crossed!

Sean Connors Beverley Johnston Valerie Naranjo

Beverley Johnston, Toronto, Canada, Professor, University of Toronto
What I find most fascinating is how difficult it was to unwind from the usual daily buzz that existed before the “house arrest”! On the other hand, as I’m getting used to this new normal I realize that I’m much more relaxed, and my approach to my music making has in a way become much more profound, not necessarily just in the sounds that I’m creating but in my understanding of why these sounds exist on a more intrinsic level. I feel like I have the opportunity to nurture the sounds that I’m creating. I’m so appreciative of that.

Valerie Naranjo, Percussionist, Lion Kingand Saturday Night Live
I teach African percussion instruments, singing, and dance at the NYU Steinhardt School. I found that it works best for us to focus on the individual projects that I had assigned to the members of our NYU African Gyil/Percussion Ensemble, and have found that my students now have a lot of time to practice some of the gyil’s and West African style marimba’s most formidable repertoire, as well as other challenges such as playing and singing at the same time.

I meet with my students on the telephone once weekly and upload/download many video texts since I am a Skype dummy. I’m also happy to say that Barry and I are making the 24/7 living situation work well. It helps that ours is a match made in heaven.

ADMINISTRATORS

Rich Holly, Executive Director for the Arts, North Carolina State University
While I can be very proud of our faculty and staff for pulling together and doing everything possible to provide at least a good (if not excellent) alternative to in-person instruction, we’ve been hearing time and time again that the students are not fond of online learning. We hear from some state legislators that with the success of the universities during this period we should be considering more online instruction in the future, but the students do not want that. The students tell us that if they wanted online instruction, they would have looked to getting a degree from that kind of school. Our students crave interaction, and are greatly looking forward to when they can be back on campus. 

Rich Hollly Kwesi Woma

Kwesi Woma, Director, Dagara Music Center and Saakumu Dance Troupe, Ghana, Africa
Educating our community about safety precautions for the coronavirus is working very well, and the practice of social distancing is well observed. We also feel that any time we meet to dance or do music we develop strong emotions of joy, and this takes away the fear and panic we have in our mind during this pandemic. This is a great way of having good mental health for us at the Dagara Music Center. 

INDUSTRY

Jason Edwards, Prologix
One retail idea that worked for us was that we were able to sell a small batch of Thunderkicks bass pedal practice pads that I had assembled while at home. This helped students with improving their practice experience at home while helping us with expenses that needed taken care of during shutdown. We also participated in some of our artists’ Zoom master classes such as Rich Stitzel of Drum Mantra out of the Chicago area. Rich does a great lesson on polyrhythms and melodies. During the class, I did a drum pad giveaway for students who were a part of the experience. What didn’t work was that it was simply frustrating for us not being able to manufacture and deliver our goods to customers during these times, but we understand that COVID-19 is a deadly virus, and we want to keep our workers and families safe. 

Jason Edwards John Wittman

John Wittman, Yamaha
What was challenging is that we had to stop using certain kinds of technology that were not protected. People were patient and positive as we adjusted. What worked was non-stop encouragement to team members and artists. Sincere and heartfelt communications to all.

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