Play On: Teaching Music in a Global Pandemic

Alex Asacker
The global pandemic has affected all of us in many ways. As educators, we grapple with maintaining high-quality academic instruction while supporting the social-emotional well-being of our students as they adjust to wearing masks, social distancing, and remote learning. As music educators we have an added challenge: no singing.

As a Lower School music teacher I generally sing more than I speak when I’m in my classroom. Or I used to. This year I’m not even in my classroom. I take a cart to meet with my students in their homeroom spaces. And what I’m transporting on that cart has everything to do with adapting to a curriculum void of singing.

This year my students have enjoyed spending more time playing instruments they were introduced to in previous years, like our various unpitched percussion instruments, soprano ukuleles, xylophones, and marimbas. They are also experiencing the chance to explore some different instruments, like our new sets of hand chimes, and djembes. Instead of pitch matching and sight singing, we are focusing on note reading, thoughtful listening, rhythm reading and dictation, composing, and the elements of tempo and dynamics.

In a pre-pandemic year my colleague and I would coordinate six large concerts and multiple Talent Shares. This year they’ve all gone virtual. When it is warm enough we bring our students outside with their masks on, and ensure that they are ten feet apart. That’s when we can safely sing. We prepare videos for our students to use when practicing at home, and then we ask them to create their own solo recordings. We combine their video and audio tracks, through hours of editing, to bring everyone together. It’s not the same as taking a bow together on stage after a performance to a full house, but in a year where so much has changed, our love for music and performance remains.