Making Music & Drama During Social Distancing by Timothy Maureen Cole, Director of Musical Theater Arts
I’m writing this post from my makeshift home office, and I’m sure many of you are reading it from your own. Things have changed so drastically in the past month for all of us. It had never occurred to me that I would be doing all of my teaching (group and private lessons) online from my living room! Then poof—here I am doing it along with many of my colleagues at the Performing Arts School.
The transition to private music lessons was not so jarring. I have been teaching online lessons off and on for several years. The terrific thing about doing it in 2020 is that technology is so much more reliable, and we have more options to reach students, than ever before. As soon as Wharton Arts made the decision to close all facilities on March 13, I knew I was all in on teaching my students remotely. Many of my private students haven’t missed one lesson since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, and I’m so grateful to be able to give them that 30 to 60 minutes a week on our usual day and time during a very difficult transition.
I am very pro-remote learning. That’s not to say that it is exactly the same as in-person lessons. My voice students are used to having live accompaniment (provided by me) in their lessons, which is not so easy to accomplish during online lessons. In times of stress, it’s easy to look at the downside, but I’m really urging my students to look at the many positives of online lessons.
Using this time to focus on technique: It’s easy when you have live accompaniment to just want to run through songs. By singing more a cappella, students really have to be sure of their own part, and it’s easier to work section by section.
Be the leader in your own songs: Take the time to really learn your music from beginning to end (rhythm, notes, tempo, phrasing). As a teacher, I want to help my students as much as possible, but that often means that I lead them to what I think they should do. Remote learning gives students the opportunity to make decisions on their own, creating better musicianship.
Ear training: Having accompaniment or another voice in duet in lessons helps students find the tonality of a piece. That’s what accompaniment is for. But the challenge of more a cappella singing means that students must really hear their next pitch or transition in their heads without any help from the teacher. Many students are challenged by this issue, and now is the perfect time to focus on improving.
Find new repertoire: So often we’re trying to get to the next goal post or performance. Having events to look forward to is important, but it’s also helpful to expand your repertoire. The more songs you’ve worked on, the more options you have to choose from for a performance or audition. Many of my students have complained about being bored at home. Now is the perfect time to listen to new music and genres. See what you like!
Tackling group classes for the musical theater and drama department was a slightly more daunting task. Most of our offerings revolve around the idea of an end production or performance. While online group classes are not unheard of, most classes are traditionally held in person. But I am so pleased to say that all of our faculty members took the online learning process in stride!
As of this week, all musical theater and drama classes are being held on Zoom, and I’m happy to report that they are getting on very well! Through Zoom, our faculty can work with an entire group at once, split them up into smaller partners or groups for practice or study, or have two teachers working with smaller groups at once. In some ways it allows us to give students more opportunities for one-on-one attention and coaching. At the Performing Arts School, we pride ourselves on having a low teacher-to-student ratio in the classroom and making sure that every student is an integral part of the class and ultimate performance. Zoom classes are allowing us to continue that in 10 of our spring offerings!
Before the closures in March, the Performing Arts School had some musical theater classes with scheduled performances that had to be postponed. Our instructors were adamant that their students deserve the chance to show off what they have worked so hard to prepare, and I couldn’t agree more. Faculty, students, and parents of the winter sections of Broadway Babies and Dance, Sing & Act have rallied together to come up with online performances for their classes, and I can’t wait to see how they turn out! While we are all hoping to get back into the physical classroom as soon as possible, it’s heartening to know that we are capable of making art and music from anywhere.
With so many activities being canceled, students are longing for something to do (other than school work). I am happy to say that our 10-week musical theater classes will be continuing online, and are starting very soon. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, please call 908-790-0700 or email email@example.com.
Broadway Babies (4-6yrs): Saturdays from 9:30-10:30am beginning on 4/4/20
Dance, Sing & Act (7-10yrs): Wednesdays from 4:00-5:30pm beginning on 4/15/20
Learning Your Role (10+yrs): Wednesdays from 5:30-7:00pm beginning of 4/15/20
As a performing artist and educator, I will always tell you that the arts are important to the well-being, growth, and development of any student. Now more than ever I really believe that is true. In anxious and stressful times, music and theater provide relief and comfort. Young people need to be able to express themselves. It’s so important for them to have classes and lessons to look forward to, and the faces of their supportive instructors to see, if only virtually for the time being.
Stay safe and take care during this trying time.
Timothy Maureen Cole holds a Master of Music degree in Voice Performance and Pedagogy from Westminster Choir College and a Bachelor of Music degree in Voice Performance from Ithaca College, and has been teaching voice, music theater, and piano since 2007. She holds certification in Early Childhood Music Education from Kindermusik International, and is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. In addition to private and group instruction, Cole has collegiate teaching experience at Horry Georgetown Technical College and James Madison University. Read more here…