With the novel coronavirus pandemic forcing Baldwin Wallace University to move academic activities online, all students have had to make adjustments in their learning styles. But for students at the BW Conservatory of Music, the shift to distance learning has come with unique challenges due to music education’s reliance on collaboration and live performance. While Conservatory students have lost out on ensemble rehearsals, in-person lessons and concerts, many upper-level students have also had to navigate the task of virtually fulfilling the requirements of their graded junior and senior recitals.
Every junior and senior student at the conservatory, in order to complete the requirements for study of their primary instrument, must play a 30-minute or one-hour recital before a live audience by the end of the academic year. A recital is a large undertaking; it requires months of practice, serious consideration of the repertoire they wish to play, and often includes collaboration with other musicians.
For students whose recitals were scheduled to fall after the university’s spring break, the closure of the campus and implementation of social distancing measures have meant that they have to reconsider how to present their recital performance to receive a grade. Some, with the cooperation of their applied teachers, have opted to live-stream performances from their homes, without piano accompaniment which is typical of these recitals. Others have chosen to pre-record videos of their performances and send the videos to their teachers. Whatever avenue they choose, presenting their recitals in this manner has come with its own set of difficulties.
Senior clarinetist Andrew Buckley, who took part in a pre-recorded senior honors recital which the Conservatory will be presenting on its YouTube channel on April 18, said he found the recording process much more difficult than a typical live performance.
“For musicians and those of us who are the perfectionist type, recording is just painful,” Buckley said. “Trying to get a take that you’re happy with, that you think other people will be happy with is just a pain.”
Buckley has also found that in pre-recording a performance he misses live music’s ability to connect with audiences. “We’re there to collaborate with an audience, have the audience be included in what we do…and to do that in this medium, I haven’t figured out a way to make that possible.”
For his senior recital later this month, Buckley has decided to stream his performance live on Facebook in an attempt to bridge the divide between himself and his audience.
“People can pop into the comments, leave a comment, leave what they’re thinking—what they like, what they don’t like—and that’s all in real time, people can see it,” said Buckley.
Still, the inability to play with any other musicians has forced some students to change their planned repertoire.
“I had to cut my recital in half because half of it was playing in a duet or bigger groups,” said senior percussionist Nancy Guzman.
Buckley had to make a similar adjustment to his recital programming in order to accommodate to the lack of accompaniment, creating an entirely new program of pieces composed for unaccompanied clarinet. “That’s been an interesting thing about this, the preparation is different,” he said. The change was disappointing, he said, because he dislikes solo repertoire. “I really have to force myself to like it,” Buckley said with a laugh.
Some members of the Conservatory community have stepped up to try to salvage some of the performances and events that were canceled due to COVID-19. The Conservatory Student Council has created a Facebook page meant to aggregate and showcase performances by Conservatory students. They plan to live-stream student recitals, lectures, and performances on the Facebook page, as well as provide pre-recorded piano accompaniment played by Con faculty pianists.
The page, called BW Conservatory Showcase, “will act as a hub for us students to host live streams of recitals, convocation performances, and academic presentations that would have otherwise been cancelled,” wrote student Ryan Vaughn in a Facebook post announcing the creation of the page.
Though the changes have been challenging and, in some ways, disappointing, Buckley does not place blame on the university, Conservatory, or any individual.
“Everybody’s doing what they can,” said Buckley. “It’s what it is, but life has to go on, musicians have to go on. We have to find new ways of doing things now.”