After 15 years on the job, instrumental music teacher Carrie Singler has developed a satisfying and effective routine with her students. During her 45-minute class, she pays close attention not only to the music, but to how her students handle their instruments and how each pluck or strum reverberates off the classroom walls.
For Singler, who teaches music at Bay Middle School and Bay High School, the best part of her job is when students come together as a group and create sweet music. She has thought about that a lot since being forced to teach virtually via Zoom.
“I feel like a curtain has been drawn between me and the students,” Singler said. “Ultimately, music is about feeling, and I can’t gauge that through Zoom.”
Knowing that students and parents are dealing with the postponement of spring and senior concerts, Singler is putting together a virtual concert that she hopes will be ready by the end of the school year. The concert will be a mix of pre-recorded songs she and her seniors selected. Each section of the song is being recorded individually, with Singler playing the song first and having her students play along with her. After each part has been mastered, the students are being recorded and the music mixed into one soundtrack by her husband Jeff, a private cello instructor.
The orchestra has joined a number of schools that are finding ways to practice through Zoom, including Rocky River High School and Cuyahoga Community College. Schools in Westlake and Avon Lake are having their students use practice journals where they chart their progress.
Of course, there are still obstacles. On Zoom, you can only have one sound going at a time, so the students have to mute themselves and play along as each part is recorded.
“To me, the hardest part about playing through these video calls is that if your internet connection is bad you can lag and lose your rhythm,” said Abby Cho, a junior at Bay High School. “Everything takes five times longer to get done now.”
Abby, 16, has set up a small practice space in her basement to limit the noise that is natural in a busy home with a stir-crazy sibling. “Our last day of school (before the closure), both the band and the orchestra had meetings afterward,” Abby said. “It was emotional and a lot of students were crying because we weren’t sure what was going to happen with the rest of the school year.”
For Singler, the toughest part about this process is trying to work with 200 students while also making sure her children, Sonia, 5, and Anne, 8, keep up with their homework.
“It’s been ridiculously hard trying to teach while also making sure they’re on top of things,” she said. “My husband and I are both working teachers so we have to make sure our schedules don’t overlap so one of us can keep an eye on them.”
Singler was at the middle school when she found out about the statewide school shutdown. “I had said goodbye to my last class that day and I didn’t even know it would be my last,” she said.
Because most of their work is now done remotely, students like Abby have struggled to find the right method for keeping up.
“It’s hard sticking to a daily routine of what needs to get done,” Abby said. “Before this, we had hallways and a set-in-stone schedule we followed.”
Communication between the students and their teachers has also been hindered.
“It’s tough to make sure they’re doing OK, even on a personal level,” Singler said. “It’s hard for young students to communicate their feelings in general. With this pandemic, it’s even harder to talk to them. I feel very much cut off from my students.”
Despite this, the orchestra has found ways to keep busy. Two weeks ago, it released a snippet of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” created through Zoom. The song was to be in its spring concert, but the musicians released a rendition to give the community some hope. Next, they plan to record and release a song from the Harry Potter franchise titled “Leaving Hogwarts.”
While it’s unclear what will happen for the rest of the school year, Singler is determined to create a lasting impact for her students.
“This is a new frontier for us,” Singler said. “My goal is to make sure that the students know what they do matters, especially with our community.”
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