For Music Students, COVID-19 Strips more than just Education

Ink is printed on paper. It isn’t words or pictures or even a drawing. It’s different sorts of black shapes seemingly strewn across five horizontal lines. The ink is like an encrypted code—only certain people possess the motivation to make sense of it, but anyone can understand it if they want to learn. So what exactly is it?

It’s musical notes strategically placed on a staff on paper. However, music is not made on paper alone. A true musician will interpret the visual, tangible notations through their own soul, and through those soul interpretations come unique yet precise musical expressions. Because musicians are so tied into their music, it is only imperative that they collaborate with other musicians and share their sounds with the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has put an abrupt pause on music expression and synergy at UWG. Music is almost entirely hands-on and without going to class, students in the Department of Music do not have the opportunity to create music together and learn from one another. Moreover, professors have to get creative in finding solutions to making real music through a computer, and some students will never perform another concert with UWG, as they previously thought they would have the opportunity to do. 

“I have invested a whole lot. Not only have I invested in the program, but it has invested in me,” said Jonathan Buchholz, a final year graduate student pursuing his Master of Music with a concentration in Performance. “After seven very long years of studying and hard work, I don’t get to show anything for it. We just recently came back from Louisiana, and we did a concert there, and I had no idea that I was playing my last concert.”

Buchholz was slated to perform in three recitals before he graduated. For those music students in the final year of their degree, whether undergraduate or graduate, students are required to play at least one recital, which works as a senior capstone. Often the recital is just the student performing alone, aside from the piano accompaniment.

“This reality has impacted a lot of us, not just me,” said Buchholz. “The recitals are for us to show the accumulation of our hard work after many years, and now many of us won’t get to do that. And that’s not to say it’s the university’s fault, I think they’re making all the right calls. It’s just that the nature of what we do makes it really difficult to continue at a time like this.”

Before an official recital, a student must perform in front of a panel of professors, which is called a hearing. At the hearing, a student is approved for his or her recital. Fortunately, Buccholz performed his hearing just three days before the university was shut down, which will count as his final credit to receive his graduate degree this spring. Other students were not so fortunate. Currently, music education professors are trying to find ways to utilize recording technology to help students move forward and/or graduate on time.

“For the students who haven’t passed their hearing yet, that’s the thing that professors and faculty and staff are really working towards to try and figure out because that’s technically the degree,” said Buccholz. “That’s what satisfies the recital credit.”

Aside from the canceled events, some music students are just reaching one of the hardest points of obtaining their degree. UWG sophomore Rachel Breaux, who is pursuing her undergraduate degree in music education, said that the semester she is currently in is one of the most difficult for an education major. Having everything online will only make it more challenging, and there is a lot at stake.

“Success in the classes I am taking right now determine my success for the rest of my degree and even my career,” said Breaux. “Most of this is determined by final exams, performances, recitals, level changes, projects and more.”

On top of the regular challenges of online learning, some music students will only have limited resources at home. The university provides music students with a variety of resources, with musical instruments being the most crucial. The keyboarding classes that every music major must go through, for example, have to be heavily adapted for the online format.

“Not everyone has access to a keyboard or piano in their homes, so our professors are having to be a bit creative in order to make everything work,” said Breaux.

One of the largest problems in the music department though is for music education majors that are supposed to be student teaching this semester. Student teachers must film videos in the classroom to complete their Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) that they need to graduate.

“Passing edTPA is definitely how we become certified teachers, so we have to be able to finish it to teach,” said Valerie Vise, senior Music Education major at UWG. “I am lucky because I have finished the filming that I need to complete edTPA, so I will be able to finish that and get my certification.”

Other students, however, were not so lucky. For those student teachers that have not completed their videos, they are trying to get assignments out to their students online. But finishing edTPA in this fashion will prove difficult because a majority of edTPA questions are based on student interaction, which is not the same virtually, according to Vise.

“To my knowledge, if a student doesn’t complete edTPA, they will also receive an incomplete for their internship, which would result in them not being able to graduate on time,” said Vise. “They would have to student teach again in the fall and complete a new edTPA in the fall with a new class.”

Essentially, senior music education majors are getting hit the hardest by the COVID-19 closures but, of course, all the music majors are having to adjust to a world where they can’t perform publicly, and they can’t make music together.

“The virus has definitely impacted us negatively, as playing music is really an outlet for most of us,” said Breaux. “It’s one of the most beautiful acts of expression, especially when it’s with others. For the music department, it’s also the majority of our social interactions. Now that we are forced into isolation, we are also isolated from our music community, our society, our culture, our expression and our main outlet.”



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