Young Musicians Tune Out Covid

At The Monmouth Conservatory of Music

By: - Nov 10, 2020

Young Musicians Tune Out Covid
At The Monmouth Conservatory of Music

Where once technology was thought to be the death knell of human social interaction, it is now bringing us together.  During this pandemic, arts institutions worldwide have been regrouping and finding ways to keep going virtually. The Monmouth Conservatory of  Music is no exception.  Living in this altered reality, unable to gather in-person as they normally would, the school has gone all-out to ensure the beat goes on for its young musicians (some as young as 5!)

“Back in March, with the support of our faculty and staff, within just 24 hours our lessons went virtual,” says Conservatory Director Lucy Chen. 

Clearly blessed with a strong, action-oriented team, the rapid pace in which Chen and her staff moved instruction into the virtual space is nothing short of amazing.

Neither the teachers, nor their students, had ever done online music lessons before.

“We had to re-invent how we’ve been teaching music for decades,” says Leo Soeda, Head of the String Department. 

Forced into a new learning curve, without hesitation or resistance, teachers and faculty quickly shifted into creative gear. With the help of Education Associate Rachel Repole, Chen instantly set up zoom accounts. The students each video-recorded themselves from wherever they happened to be. The next day the teachers tested and practiced using the virtual platform, rehearsing each part with their students and syncing audio and video tracks together. 

“Within 24 hours, Leo and 5 faculty members piloted the first virtual classes,” says Chen. 

“I think I taught about 6 to 7 students the first weekend, and only had technical issues with one of them,” says Soeda.

It is of course a blessing that in today’s world young people are extremely comfortable with technology. And teachers are finding that by using this technology, it's actually helping accelerate the learning of the students.

Additionally, teachers are coming up with new ways to  make online classes fun, too. Take Leo Soeda’s cello ensemble. With a Masters in composition, arranging music comes easily to him,  so he decided to rocket up his lessons by melding classical music with pop songs. “My approach, when communicating with my cello students, was not to make it a big deal, because everything else was so scary. I wanted to reassure them. Kids love upbeat tempos,” explains Soeda,  “so I began arranging some upbeat songs.” 

His adaptations are structured to bring a welcome, energetic contrast to classical music, and yet there are still classical elements to the arrangements.

“I find Nirvana's music (the American rock band formed by Kurt Cobain in the 1980s) is perfect for an intermediate level cello ensemble. It is repetitive, interesting, simple, rhythmic, fun to play, and the range of the sound fits the range of the cello really well.” In addition to Nirvana, other catchy pieces include the Beatles Hey Jude and Yellow Submarine

Of course we all wish for more normal times. Until that happens, the Monmouth Conservatory of Music will not let a  mere pandemic keep the students away from their music. 

The virtual performances I listened to – and watched -  felt intimate and joyful. While it’s true that much has been lost in keeping students from personal interaction, I also think that much has been gained.

This December the Conservatory will perform a virtual holiday recital with Jacobs Piano/Jacobs Music (a premier Steinway showcase store in the Shrewsbury, New Jersey area) and Channel 12 News Sound of the Seasons program.

Stay tuned!

Monmouth Conservatory of Music here.