This is a story about the start of new green shoots growing from the forest fire of this pandemic. This post is about finding new ways to provide for my students, once the old way of things was burned to the ground.
Losing our way
For my music school, the biggest impact was that face-to-face interaction disappeared. Exams were halted, even the teacher assessed Music Medals. Ensembles and concerts vanished from existence. Forward planning became impossible, the future completely uncertain.
My wonderful students were overwhelmingly supportive and loyal and understanding, and they trusted to stick with me whilst I got things sorted out for them, but even so the business shrank once the lockdown hit.
But soon, I was able to see that there were opportunities to provide new and exciting things to my students that I simply couldn’t have seen whilst the old order of things was happening.
I had always been able to deliver some Zoom lessons and I knew how to teach and support people online. This was the first thing to come back strong: I was able to provide tuition to my students through the internet, and actually this worked pretty well for a lot of them.
But after a while I felt bad that a lot of the other things I provided for my students were still out of the picture. Several students had prepared for a long time for exams so we did mock exams virtually. Now, some students are choosing to do the real exams when the chance arises, secure in their knowledge of being well-prepared. Others have decided to progress to the next grade without the qualification.
For me, the saddest thing lockdown did to my work was that it suppressed the ensembles. I love these groups. To see my students, many of whom started as beginners, coming together to produce music with each other, was just wonderful.
If only we could have continued live ensembles virtually! After a bit of research and some false starts, it became clear that because of the lag and sound quality this wasn’t an option. Not even group phone calls would have solved this.
Getting going again
After a lot of thought, I decided to abandon ‘live’ ensembles, and to ask my students to make solo recordings, and then I would produce them together afterwards. This was a massive learning experience for us all. For me, it gave me an insight into the time, skill and precision required to make a studio recording. You simply can’t get away with the little inaccuracies which you’d accept in a live performance at a concert. Trying to stitch together different chunks of music from half a dozen musicians, recorded over a space of 3 months, required a lot more work than I had foreseen. And yet I learned so much from the process and I now know so much more about what I will do for the next project.
Even further from my previous experience was to record the music video. This was a totally new process, and very different from performing on a stage. When you’re there in front of an audience in a band, you interact all together in a way you can’t when you record separately.
I need to give a huge amount of credit to my students. They have shown extraordinary commitment through the pandemic and to the ensemble. For each section of the suite, they made many recordings. On most occasions, we used a draft version for some feedback, before they sent through a final version. For the final video, they recorded several takes of their playing through the piece in its entirety. Even though this was spread over three months, the level of work was terrific. The group, excluding one shielding retiree, comprised key workers – a transport manager; a teacher; an army sergeant; a police officer. They were able to make a big commitment to the group in addition to all their work in these strange times, and I’m in awe of them.
So what did we learn?
The students got an insight into the precision and self-analysis needed as a recording artist (not to mention how cringe-making it is to have to watch your own video)
I learned a little about digital technology for recording and producing music and video. Initially using Garageband and iMovie, I invested in Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X, which really opened my eyes to the possibilities and the challenges. The scope of these programmes make me realise quite how ignorant I was, and how much more I want to learn. I was also surprised at how easy it is to access top-end software in an amateur studio. (I’m a professional teacher, not a music studio!)
We all learned how much longer it takes to do something when you’re new to it. I massively underestimated the time it would take to record the whole event, and the students all said that they took far longer on recording themselves as they always found something else to improve.
We all learned to control our frustration and self-doubt, and turn it into a positive learning experience – eventually!
And we all learned about how being apart could actually help to bring us together.
The video went live on Monday 24 August, at 7pm. I can’t remember ever having been so nervous before a concert. This was totally different from live performance: the video was finished, it was uploaded and ready to watch, and there was nothing I could do to stop or change it. The countdown on YouTube to the premiere was so thrilling and exciting. 3-2-1 ... and it worked!
The world is very different from before, and I don't know when we will be able to have our concerts and ensembles like we used to. Guidance keeps changing, and people are still nervous about meeting in person. I think it will be awhile before we can gather and play like we used to, but my sadness is lightened by knowing that I have so many exciting new things to do and learn with my students, and to see what continues to grow from the ashes of what we had before.
If you haven’t yet seen the video, please do go and watch it (and like it and subscribe to my channel!). For me, it will always be more than just a cover of a well known song: it will always remind me of what we managed to do and learn through the pandemic.
To finish, I want to thank again all the musicians who performed, my husband Stuart for the technical work and emotional support, and all the community who watched and listened and shared the music. I couldn’t have done it without you all.