Let’s set the stage. It was the first week of March 2020. I walked onto the stage to perform the third movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and it could not have been any worse. My spiccato did everything but what I wanted, and my frustration level increased the longer I performed. All I could think about was how much I needed a break from everything. Spring Break couldn’t come soon enough.
Then, COVID-19 happened.
I'm a senior Violin Performance major at Virginia Commonwealth University, and almost exactly a year ago. I went home for spring break, where I would finally take a much-needed respite.
Within days I received an email stating that we were not coming back. Due to the pandemic, I have completed my last three semesters of my undergraduate music experience almost entirely online. Everything I thought would happen (festivals, traveling, gigging) came to an abrupt halt. I didn’t get to see my teacher, my friends or even live music for that matter. Everything just… stopped.
Or, so I thought.
Everyone always describes the pandemic as “unprecedented times” and, although we are sick of hearing this phrase, it is absolutely true. Not only are musicians operating differently than we have ever had to before, but the entire world has a new sense of normal.
But, is that a bad thing?
I’m sure that we can all make a list full of negatives and challenges that come with virtual learning. However, I’m here to counter that mindset and look at the other side of the coin. Many benefits have come out of virtual learning, and I've decided to focus on what I've learned...because of COVID:
At VCU, I study with Susanna Klein, who has always been adamant about the use of technology. This was amplified when COVID-19 arrived. Since March, I have been required to record my repertoire every single week prior to my lesson. This may not seem difficult, but actually it’s not easy. In the past few semesters, I have been preparing for juries, graduate school auditions, and my senior recital. In a given week, I could easily record 30 minutes to an hour of my playing prior to my lesson.
How has this helped me develop?
Since I was required to record so frequently, I became accustomed to new technology. For example, I purchased a microphone that would improve my sound in the recording. I have learned to utilize iMovie as well as software like Reaper and Logic Pro. I have become more comfortable with recording. I cleared a psychological hurdle. I have become better in practice and performance from listening to my recordings.
Because of COVID-19, I record more often and more efficiently.
As a musician, I am very methodical when it comes to my practicing. If you tell me to drill this line 100 times, I will have completed at least 150 by my next lesson. I’m very disciplined in my practice. However, I am not always focused on being creative. My teacher tells me all the time that most of the discoveries in music will happen in the practice room, not in the hour-long weekly lesson.
When COVID-19 prevented me from having in-person lessons, I had to alter how I learned. I was forced to become a more independent learner. I started studying YouTube videos, playing for other students, and doing more self-study through video. I honestly felt like I had truly entered the “music world” without having my teacher to guide me every step of the way.
Because of COVID-19, I am becoming an independent musician and artist.
Prior to the pandemic, I had a plan to use the summer before my senior year to travel to different schools that I was considering for my graduate studies. Unfortunately, that was not possible with the pandemic raging all over the country. Since my plan was not possible, I chose a different route. After I completed my juries, I emailed multiple professors asking them if they would be willing to give me a virtual lesson. To my surprise, every professor returned my email and were more than happy to give me a lesson… free of charge. I took lessons all summer long with master teachers, and it was a thrill.
During these lessons, I learned so much about my personal playing and the teaching style of the different professors. This helped me to narrow down my list of schools that I would eventually apply to. In addition, I was able to record some of the lessons so that I can have a record of the lesson. Now that I am in the process of receiving decision letters, I am also receiving emails from the professors that I studied with to check in on me and keep me updated with the process.
Because of COVID-19, I have created a network and a relationship with teachers that would not have been possible before.
4. Connecting with Colleagues
In my studio, we were all very cordial with each other; however, we really connected more after the pandemic started. Practice buddies became a very helpful experience for us, especially when we first started virtual learning. Pre-COVID, it felt easy to get out of bed and go to the music building to practice because we knew our friends would be there. Even if we talked for a few minutes, we knew that we had a community to support each other. During the pandemic, we had to purposely reach out to each other. We became reliant on each other for moral support and companionship in a new way.
In addition, we also started Violin Happy Hour every Friday. This was, and still is, a time where we can come together, with our beverage of choice, and spend time with each other. We would play games like Concerto Bingo and even talk about filing taxes. As a black woman, Violin Happy Hour was something that I looked forward to especially during the time of the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer. From the laughs to the tears, we knew we would always have someone to help us get through the next week.
Because of COVID-19, I became closer with everyone in my studio and we grew into a community of violinists.
* * *
These are only a few things that have changed for the better due to COVID-19. The list could go on. I believe I should continue building these are skills and concepts when the pandemic is finally in our rear-view mirror. The world came to a standstill last year and, because of this, I am a better musician and person than ever before. Some students may never go back to in-person lessons whether it be for convenience or a preference for virtual learning. Instead of focusing on "getting back to normal," I challenge all of us to discover new ways to learn and adapt so that we can make learning music as rich as possible.
P.S. There is nothing like the real thing. I’m looking forward to my in-person lesson next week!Tweet
I think this blog is magnificent. Covid19 did, in a sense, accelerate many changes that were already taking place in many areas of human endeavor and we have to choose whether we are going to embrace them and use them in a positive way or just shrug our shoulders and give up. You clearly chose the former path and deserve every success in whatever confronts you in the future.
Stacy, thank you for that.
In (active) retirement, my natural procrastination has been amplified by Covid. You inspire us all to a good shake-up..
Brava Stacey! Very well written with lots of positive truths for all of us at various points on this journey we are all in together. I would think that any graduate program in the country would love to have you as part of their community of learners.
I completely agree with everything in here! As a music composition major finishing up my graduate studies, I feel like I was in a very similar boat as you in March 2020 too. I've been experimenting with recording (Reaper and Logic too!) and making an effort to talk with colleagues as you described - so it's good to hear how others are feeling the same way as me! Good luck with your future studies, no matter where you end up!
Brilliant blog post Stacey! You really do seem to have great insight. Lucky you to have Professor Klein as your violin teacher. My teacher here in Blacksburg is great too, but I'd still like to come to Richmond sometime and play for her. When all this *#@&% blows over maybe I will.
Excellent article! I love hearing how you were able to grow as a musician in all of these areas. I feel like I’ve grown a lot, too, in recording and meeting people. Yesterday, I listened to a graduate recital online that I never could have attended in person.
I used covid to publish different kind of starter album. Check it out:
Thank you so much everyone! I am glad that you all enjoyed the post. The past 3 semesters have been very difficult; however, there is so much that we can learn as we look towards a prosperous future!
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April 17, 2021 at 01:59 AM · This is a wonderful and very educational post for someone like me who has no experience with musicianship at this level. Thank you for posting this.