*Alan had just finished rehearsing one of his choirs on a piece of music they were going to be presenting at an upcoming concert when he received the email: School was closing. They were projected to be out until April.
“We’ll do [the concert] when we come back,” he thought. Within a week, though, it became clear the situation was becoming more serious. The school district gave them a week to create online classes. None of the students wanted to do a virtual choir. Alan said the students could only hear themselves, and they had joined to sing with others, not by themselves, in addition to other issues. Other than one virtual choir for graduation, they had music history units and worked with Sight-Reading Factory. Alan worked with a colleague on listening units, which included discussing personal preferences as well as analyzing music.
2020-21 was tough because Alan wasn’t sure if/when they would move to virtual instruction. The students wanted to sing, not do virtual choirs. He taught a piece the students sing every year and afterwards switched to solo music. 25% of students stayed virtual all year, with the other 75% coming to school in a variety of configurations depending on the COVID spread. There was no in-person concert in the fall, although they subscribed to StreamYard, and presented a live performance from their houses.
Alan’s philosophy was to find a “path of least resistance.” He focused on keeping it light and engaging while also being academic in nature. His district was active in providing materials they could use for online teaching, including a shared curriculum they could use. While many teachers were moved to support in-person elementary students, Alan wasn’t. At the end of Spring 2021, students sang in-person (with restrictions), and filmed a huge production that was shared with the community. It had a very positive response.
Alan was impressed with how resilient students were, especially since he knows students need community. Related, he’s been grateful for the focus on mental health. They’ve always talked about it at some level, but there has been a deeper dive. On the other hand, planning has been frustrating with so much uncertainty. Day-after-day, instruction has depended on public health. It often wasn’t improving. They were “on pause”: living but not really experiencing.
Alan was fortunate when COVID first hit– choir numbers stayed fairly stable. Even for this upcoming year, his retention numbers are strong. But the number of incoming 9th graders declined sharply. If numbers are low, fewer people attend concerts. If people don’t attend concerts or if there are no concerts, he has no budget. His administrators understand that he will need to build numbers again, but he only has a year to get his numbers back. Prior to COVID, he visited the middle schools and saw those students face-to-face. His students would sing with them, and 8th graders would visit his school. None of that can happen at the moment, although he’s hopeful that it will. He knows that districts often make decisions based on the community’s political leanings, and he suspects his district will try to stay open all year. He sees other challenges, though: he knows many students will need credit recovery, and their schedules might get filled with classes other than choir. He also wishes they had more counselors at his school. The highly-trained counselors do amazing work, but there simply aren’t enough of them to provide the academic and mental health support to large numbers of students.
As he looks forward, he recognizes he has control over his class environment. He prioritizes an open and welcoming space. This past year, he spoke to students about Asian-American violence. Alan is an Asican-American, and there were times he was worried about his safety. His Asian-American colleagues felt the same. He shared a real part of his humanity with students, and the conversation he had with them was very real.
Questions still remain about this upcoming year: What will public health be like? What type of questions will the choral profession be addressing? Alan hopes he is able to interact with other choral colleagues and ask hard questions that affect our discipline. There are things in his mind that need to be discussed.
Either way, Alan said, he will continue to find a way to make things work.
*Name has been changed to respect the privacy and processing of the sharer.