October 1, 2020
By Pablo Valladares
As musicians, the reality of what we knew as our world has changed and humanity has been tested in ways that have challenged our ability to adapt and overcome obstacles in life. Many people have had to learn new ways of communication in order to keep family close but also to keep doing their day-to-day work. Technology has become our biggest tool and it has helped us compensate for one of the biggest challenges we have had to face as social human beings: physical distancing. Ever since the pandemic started, social gatherings were the first thing to be prohibited. Considering the risk some of those activities have demonstrated for the spread of COVID-19 the entertainment industry has been affected tremendously.
At the WMU School of Music, all in-person activities and classes were cancelled in March and ever since students, faculty, and staff have adapted in many ways to continue with their day to day activities. Rehearsals have moved outside, weather-permitting. We have embraced new technologies and capabilities. New modalities for instruction, research, and performance are being explored. Though musicians may be physically further apart, with grit and determination we move forward, together, into this new paradigm of music-making in the time of COVID-19.
Carlos Lozano, a graduate student pursuing his master’s degree in viola performance talks about some of the challenges that were presented to him during this time, as a student and performer.
Valladares: As a teacher and a performer, what aspects from music making were impacted first by social-distancing?
Lozano: It was a radical change. Any performance with a large group was stopped for many months, and even rehearsals with a small chamber ensemble felt unsafe. In a way, the relationship of performer-listener was greatly changed, or evolved I would say.
How did you manage to overcome the difficulties of making music?
We had to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and many performances were canceled, so in the quartet I am part of, we went to only rehearsals, and not so frequent to be safe. However, music has been moving to the virtual as of late, and I was able to perform in a live virtual concert along with Pablo Valladares, and although it is not the same for both the performer and the listener, it helped me to feel that the music was still alive and that it was important for us to reach out to our audiences in any way we can.
How was your first experience playing a virtual concert?
It was a very good experience. I got to listen to artists from all over the world, and it made it possible to have a program that would have been very difficult to put together in a live performance.
How did you feel not having an audience in the hall?
The feeling is different in many ways, not only there is no audience present but the venue is very different. Both aspects give more of a nervousness and excitement to the moments prior and the performance.
Did playing the concert feel the same way?
It felt like saying the same thing in two different ways. Yes, it is not the same, but we're getting the point across, which is giving our music to the audience.
What aspects did you like or didn’t like about performing for a virtual concert?
I liked the flexibility and the possibility to connect from large distances in between, but at the same time it didn't feel as personal as it would normally feel.
As a teacher, what have you done to keep your students engaged during this virtual era?
Mostly trying to motivate the student during lesson, and not to focus much on the technological failure (if the sound is not good or what not) since I think that will just put more stress into the student.
Did you spend much time adjusting to technology in order to teach online?
Yes, I had to get new equipment and familiarize myself with it, but once understood it became normal.
What are the challenges of teaching online?
The internet connection must be good on both ends, and if not (and that's usually the case), the sound won't be clear and it won't be ideal for a good teaching and learning experience, but we still work with what we get.
How has virtual teaching impacted your students? Are they able to learn in the same way?
It has pushed both the student and the teacher to look at it in a different way, learning by different approaches than what we're used to, but I think we can still share a lot and learn a lot.
Certainly Carlos Lozano’s story represents similar experiences of many other students and faculty members. Adapting to new ways of doing some regular activities such as teaching, rehearsing, and attending concerts is tricky for many musicians, however, it has shown us new ways to connect with, and create new experiences for, people around the world.