LSU School of Music classes involve more than just a textbook and lectures-- they include performances, lessons and rehearsals. These classes had to adapt to online learning with a lack of human interaction and performance opportunity, but the faculty learned from the experience and will use it for the upcoming semester.
LSU School of Music Director James Byo said the switch to online classes for performance majors was not ideal, but the School of Music faculty and students were able to learn a lot from the transition.
“A number of faculty learned a lot about themselves, about their courses and about our students by having had to completely shift their thinking-- their paradigm about the subject matter and class content,” Byo said.
Byo said the School of Music received various amounts of feedback from students about the transition to online learning. He said the students were serious and constructive in their responses and the School of Music learned from the transition.
“Our faculty just really, in a very good spirit, went to work hard at making the adaptations that were necessary and just figuring things out as they went,” Byo said. “That meant that courses were delivered in a number of different ways.”
The School of Music has three types of classes: traditional lecture classes, applied (one-on-one) lessons and ensembles.
Byo said the applied lessons classes worked well online through Zoom or other services.
“The fidelity of the sound is where faculty learned to make some adjustments in the system such that the sound could be anywhere from reasonably good to quite good in terms of the quality,” Byo said.
Faculty found that lessons conducted in this way were productive and more intense, according to Byo. He said students and faculty paid a different type of attention to their lessons over Zoom. In addition to one-on-one lessons, some students also recorded themselves performing or practicing and faculty provided feedback during their lessons.
Byo said a problem exists with online learning involving larger instruments, like percussion instruments and pianos. Many students are dependent on LSU to provide instruments and did not have access to them because campus buildings were closed.
“We actually moved some pianos from the School of Music to the homes or the apartments of piano majors who didn’t have instruments where they lived,” Byo said.
Because there was no access to campus buildings and social distancing measures were in place, the ensemble classes looked different online or did not happen at all.
Byo said some ensembles did a “collage concert,” where students recorded themselves singing at home and the videos were edited together to create a concert.
Byo said for the fall, plans are already being made for each type of class to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
“Our priority is the safety of our people,” Byo said. “We’re going to do all the things we have to do-- the safety measures of distancing and masks and disinfectant.”
For traditional lecture classes, the School of Music is being sensitive to classroom capacity and social distancing. Byo said faculty of this class type may choose to hold some classes in-person and some online.
Byo plans to move lessons to larger classrooms and spaces so that social distancing can be enforced. He said there are a variety of rooms and spaces to house these lessons in, including the outdoor amphitheater.
Byo said the department is ordering two trifold plexiglass barriers for each faculty member’s office to protect the professor and student during lessons and interactions.
Ensembles will be broken into smaller groups, such as quartets or quintets. Byo said they will be held in larger spaces with each student seated behind a plexiglass unit.
“They will perform and rehearse in small groups of people, anywhere from four to 20, in a large space,” Byo said. “Our ensemble directors would just switch gears and move from large ensemble people to small ensemble people.”
Byo said the faculty has met frequently about moving forward and being flexible in the upcoming semester.
“We need to be okay with the idea that we’re going to have to pivot on a dime at some point and just change because circumstances change,” Byo said.
Vocal Music Education sophomore Rebecca Chappell said the biggest challenge in moving online was losing the human interaction with other musicians. She said this was particularly hard in her voice lessons. On campus, she had an accompanist who played with her and followed her while she was singing, but online she had a recording to follow.
“We couldn’t make music together the same way we could [in person]," Chappell said.
Chappell said her one-on-one lessons with her voice professor shifted to Facetime class meetings. She said with Facetime, only one audio is picked up at a time, so Chappell could not sing while her professor played the piano.
“She had to play, and I had to, basically, repeat it,” Chappell said. “For me, that wasn’t too horrible, but I don’t know how easy that was in other lessons.”
For her final, Chappell had to record herself and post it as a Youtube video to get it to her professor.
For her ensemble classes, her choir had a piece commissioned for them. The members had to record themselves and send it to the director. This piece was brand new, so Chappell said there was no recording for them to listen to to learn it. Instead, a computer played out the notes.
Chappell said her director put all the recordings together and edited it into a virtual performance.
“We basically just utilized technology-- videoed ourselves singing separately and put it together,” Chappell said.
Chappell said she thinks the LSU School of Music did a great job with the transition to online learning last semester.
“Communication was amazing,” Chappell said. “They communicated every little detail with us which was comforting.”
Chappell said the changes to next semester, like wearing a mask and social distancing, will be difficult for her particular major. She said directors will not see choir members’ mouths as they should.
“It just seems a little bit impossible right now,” Chappell said. “It’s kind of upsetting because I look forward to getting back to some kind of normalcy. But for me and the voice people, that doesn’t look like it can really happen.”
Chappell said it was difficult for her to stay motivated during remote learning. Music education senior Thomas Odenheimer said he felt a drop in his motivation too.
"Many people put their instruments down and are still having trouble getting back to practicing with not many performance opportunities," Odenheimer said.
He said because his favorite part of being a musician is making music with other people, practicing lost its importance when there's no foreseeable future performances.
He said he had no problems with the way his professors dealt with the transition, though classes looked differently.
"I appreciated that they were open to conversations on fixing their new ways of teaching," Odenheimer said.