As schools head back into session in the midst of a global pandemic, we face a never-ending torrent of restrictions and requirements to keep all people safe while still providing and getting quality education. A well-rounded and comprehensive education consists of many necessary components to keep students engaged and learning. This includes a robust music education programming, a fact that educators alike are well aware.
“The skills we learn in music lead to experiences that are creative, aesthetic, and uplifting,” said Sandy Barry, Maine Music Educators Association (MMEA) President and Middle School Band Director at Mahoney Middle School in South Portland. “A music classroom embodies the best of 21st century skills, including problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and interdependent learning.”
Yet on the minds of musicians (and music educators) around the world is the heartbreaking truth that singing and playing wind instruments while near other people is now considered a risk in transmitting COVID-19. While we mourn the absence of live concerts and impromptu choir practice in the halls, or even just singing at the top of our lungs in the car with our friends, music educators are busy trying to orchestrate a very different but essential music education program this school year.
“Preserving access to music education for all of our students during this difficult time is crucial. As we reimagine music education along with our students, it is important to focus on all that we can do in the music classroom, even though group singing and wind playing looks different right now,” said Ben Potvin, MMEA Past President and Grades 3-5 Classroom Music, Band, and Chorus at Mast Landing School in Freeport (RSU5). “Maine’s music educators are up to the challenge of fostering connections with our students and maintaining safe, high-quality music instruction.”
With hard work and a deep commitment to ensuring quality music instruction continued, Maine’s music teachers took on the challenges posed by COVID-19. “I am in awe of the creative and innovative ways in which our music, and all our visual and performing arts, educators have re-imagined their craft,” said Commissioner of Education, Pender Makin. “Music is one of the core expectations for our schools exactly because it nurtures this kind of flexible problem solving and creativity, skills that are vital for our classrooms and for the 21st century.”
Even when schools had no choice but to deliver remote education in the spring, music educators still found a way to encourage and engage students from home and students blossomed with the opportunity to get more of want they wanted.
“Because I had more time and flexibility in my schedule when we were distance learning, I was able to focus on my own musical goals and develop a more consistent practice routine,” said Delia Harms, a Junior from Massabesic HS in Waterboro who plays the bassoon in the school band, the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble, and the Symphony Orchestra. “I had time to really dig into more challenging music, but also to focus on returning to the basics and developing fundamental skills. Though it was different, every moment that I was able to connect with others about music, through recordings or on zoom, it brought back some of that excitement and connection that music has always created. It has been inspiring to see the resilience and commitment of my musical community that has allowed them to persevere through these difficult circumstances to continue making music.”
For many, the chance to continue having a creative space to practice and learn music through education programming provides solace during an uncertain time.
“Access to music education is incredibly important for a number of reasons, especially now, but the first one that comes to mind is to create a support system for kids” said Colette (Coco) Carrillo, a Junior from Waterville High School who is an active member of the school choral program.” So many people I know see their school’s music programs as a creative outlet and a safe place that they don’t have anywhere else in the school. It offers them an activity that can not only relieve their stress but can also build so many skills for their futures. Whether it’s in person or online, kids in music programs do those activities for a reason. They want to share their passion with friends, learn new material, and improve their skills. Getting rid of those programs or lowering the standard will harm their academic minds as well as their artistic minds.”
Finding a new way to learn during the pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, and the reinvention of how we educate students and how we prioritize what we need to do has provided a valuable lesson in and of itself.
“When schools began to shut down, the music department was arguably hit the hardest, as playing/ singing together does not lend itself to virtual mediums very well due to the fact that digital latency prevents synchronization,” said Tyler Lucca, a Junior from Yarmouth High School who plays the trombone in the school’s honors level Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band, and sings in the honors level Chamber Choir. “This made making music with my peers nearly impossible, at least in the traditional way, and it showed me how important these classes that we took for granted truly are.”
Music education is essential to a robust educational experience and while it may look very different this year, and possibly for years to come, it is more than just another education standard to meet or a lesson plan to fit into the schedule. It’s an emotional state, it’s a way to cope, and for many it’s a vital part of what makes them who they are.