Webinar Archive: S1W5
Recitals, Auditions, and Juries, Oh My!
Strategies for assessing performance virtually
6 April 2020 — Compiled by DR. MARK NABOLZ, Chief Editor of Publications
Strategies for assessing performance virtually
This archival item is a work in progress. The following items are not yet added or completed:
- Editor’s Summary
- Moderator’s Review
- Video for all Parts
- Integration of Attendee Contributions
- Essential Resources exported
About the Webinar
The end of the academic year fast approaches and, with it, the time when we traditional evaluate our ￼students through recitals and juries. Many of us would typically also audition applicants and place future choristers during this time of year. In the time of ‘social distance,’ however, everything requires a fresh look. How will we evaluate? Are our goals the same and what outcomes can we expect? What software is best and can we actually hear them? Finally, what’s the impact on our programs, our applicants, and our students? Join our panel and your colleagues to discuss and share resources in another event in the NCCO Webinar Series, “Collegiate Choral Music During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”.
Miguel Ángel Felipe, moderator
Director of Choral Activities & Associate Professor
University of Arizona
Lisa A. Billingham
Choral Conducting and Music Education Faculty & Professor
George Mason University
Professional Singer; Chair, Voice Area & Professor
The University of Hawai‘i – Mānoa
Founder, uTheory; Director of Vocal Ensembles & Associate Professor
Oberlin College & Conservatory
Professional Singer & Assistant Professor
Arizona State University
Summary, Resources, & Video
[25:30] Miguel Felipe: Our conversation today will cover topics like:
- where in our work are we making assumptions about equity?
- ways to provide better access;
- how might we refocus and recenter our instruction;
- lots of tools to help you accomplish these things;
- we’ll look forward to how things
As our students’ lives have been thrown topsy-turvy, facing new expectations about tech know-how and access, finding a quiet space to focus on work at home, and issues of sickness and unemployed family members, how can we proceed as faculty to do the best job of offering instruction and performance assessment. Lisa?
Lisa Billingham: I am part of what we call an “I. C. Group” looking at Instructional Continuity. We extended our break by one week to make sure that faculty had two weeks to move online. There are students who are well equipped with laptop, wifi, and a comfortable home, and they have accessibility. On the other hand, I finally contacted a student this morning who had neither computer nor wifi available in his home. Expecting him to be part of a virtual choir is a serious challenge. The word that we’re using is flexibility. Nobody signed up for this.
Gregory Ristow: A number of schools are providing ways for students to alert administration that they don’t have the tools to participate in online classes, and then provide funds or equipment to them, such as wifi hotspots or computers. I read an article in the NYT just yesterday about how many students have not reappeared after classes have gone online. We need to be very sensitive to issues of access to technology and appropriate learning spaces.
Stephanie Weiss: There have been some organizations and apps that have been very helpful in granting access, such as appcompanist (long free trial).
Miguel: Greg, you run uTheory.com, an online learning platform for music theory, and you have opened the gates, right?
Greg: Yes, like a lot of online learning, we’ve gone “free” for about 20,000 students a week who are using Utheory.com to learn the fundamentals of music theory, rhythm, and ear training.
Maya Hoover: I heard that Spectrum is granting wifi access to students whose homes don’t have it, and there may be other companies doing that as well. I don’t know if that is exclusive to K-12, but that is worth looking into.
[33:20] Miguel: How are you refocusing your instruction. Stephanie, in the applied studio how have your instruction and expectations changed?
Stephanie: In general my standards haven’t changed, but how I evaluate those standards has. There is a big difference between being in the room with someone and having a screen between you. We’re all sympathetic with the vibrations in the room, and now we don’t have those. It has added a level of self-awareness in my teaching.
My students were worried about how their lessons would go, and much to their surprise I think they’ve been very pleased. Because I’ve known these students for at least a semester, we’ve been able to get some good work done because I can equate what I know of their voice with what is coming through the technology. Working around bad wifi connections has been an adjustment.
You can work on language [diction], and I’ve found we’ve gone even further with language online then we would have in person because we have more time due to performance limitations. Working with Appcompanist or other things they’ve found to provide in-the-room accompaniment presents challenges.
Miguel: You mentioned diction – are there tools specifically for the IPA [International Phonetic Alphabet] that allow for those special characters to be used in chat windows? How would you address that?
Stephanie: Dictionpolice is a fantastic resource.
I have music ed and music therapy students who have not taken diction, so I teach them IPA or they develop their own version of IPA to get the correct sounds.
Maya: I live on an island, so my musical life is contingent upon staying connected through the internet. My own voice teacher is in NY City, so this has been my reality for several years. The biggest adjustment for my students has been the first lesson, because it is very exposed. But they quickly see that it works quite well. I’ve been using Facetime because where I am (Hawai‘i) the sound is better than Zoom.
Greg: At Oberlin we’re trying to work with whatever technological situation the student is in. For students without fast internet, we’re finding that recording in advance and sending files that can upload more slowly is working.
Miguel: Our poll results are in, and the overwhelming concern right now is juries. Greg, how can we make juries work technologically?
Greg: If a student has good internet, then a live jury is a possibility. At Oberlin we only do juries during the Freshman and Sophomore years, and we’ve delayed our juries to the fall because we wanted the students to be able to do a “live” collaborative performance with a pianist. For recitals we are assessing students via recording or via live performance for teachers, similar to a jury.
Miguel: What are your administrators saying they want to happen with juries? Do we postpone, cancel, substitute?
Lisa: At George Mason each area coordinator has worked with the Chair of the School of Music to define how they want juries done. Obviously, if you don’t have a marimba at home they can’t play rudiments or excerpts. Seniors who have been prepping recitals and graduate school auditions have recordings of excerpts or performances that they can turn in.
Look at creative ways for students to show what they’ve mastered, whether short term or long term, to give them an opportunity to share what they can. A student can wait until the last possible day of final exams before they decide to take credit, no-credit, or a traditional grade. It’s not just “what can we produce in a jury,” but rather “what can I show you visibly that I’ve done at this time.”
Miguel: Any other comments about performance assessment?
Maya: My students are responding to the [synchronous] meeting time because many of their classes are self-paced. I think that they rely upon that structure to give some sense of normalcy. The mental and emotional implications of having a fixed lesson time cannot be underrated. After we’re through this, NASM will have to decide how important is it that a student wasn’t able to do everything that is normally required.
Stephanie: My colleagues and I asked our students, “What do you want out of Studio Class? Do you want to meet? Do you want to sing? Post recordings? Listening projects?” Overwhelmingly, they all wanted to sing. Some of them enjoy performing “live” via Zoom; some prefer to make videos and then we comment. We’ve started doing asynchronous watch parties of operas, musicals, recitals. They seem very happy with the meeting time in person, and also with the time on their own asynchronously. Asking the students what they need is just as important as the NASM rules.
Miguel: What about our students who can’t play or sing in their homes?
Stephanie: For the first week of the shutdown our students were still on campus and could use the practice rooms. Then it was reduced to only students with terminal recitals. Now they’ve been assigned their own practice room until the time of their recital. For those without recitals who can’t sing in their home, that’s a tricky thing. One of my students goes to the common area of his apartment building to find WiFi. We have to be lenient to help them with language and musicianship skills. One of my students is working on Barber of Seville learning recits, and he doesn’t have to sing – he’s been working language, speaking them. He’s also doing a character study of Figaro, which is his role.
Maya: I live in a condominium, so I hand-wrote notes to all of my immediate neighbors, introducing myself and explaining that I need to practice at home. I told them what they could expect to hear and when, and to please contact me if there is a problem. I got some very nice responses and nobody has pounded on the floor. I’ve suggested that my students try the same neighborly approach.
Miguel: Greg, you have applied technology in ways many of us don’t know. What are some technological tools we can use?
Greg: The benefit of Zoom is the ease of connecting people for conversation, but it does not have music capable audio. Facetime and Skype both have better audio. If you want very high audio quality, use Zoom for video and Cleanfeed.net for the audio. It claims to only work with Chrome, but it works just fine with others. It’s used to record high quality audio for radio interviews.
If students have an external microphone it makes a world of difference. For asynchronous things, many people have been using the Acappella app, which lets you multitrack with yourself and friends. Audacity and GarageBand are quite well known for audio recording. We have our staff accompanist recording accompaniment tracks and sending them to students.
Lisa: We’re doing that at George Mason. In fact, one of our collaborative pianists has found that she would rather have the student sing the piece with the artistry they want first, and then she plays the accompaniment under their singing.
Miguel: It’s important to remember that many of our collaborative pianists are paid hourly, and losing half a semester is 1/4 of their annual income. If there are ways for us to keep them engaged that will help them survive this financially.
Stephanie: We have a collaborative piano pool, and the students have already paid their pianists for the semester, so those pianists have been sending in tracks for their singers. Some of our collaborators don’t have an instrument available in their living space, and for those students we’ve used Appcompanist.
Maya: I’ve asked my students to download the Mini Piano app, so they have a keyboard on their phone which is useful for vocalise and early learning stages.
Miguel: Greg, choral directors cannot synchronize lots of people to replicate a choral rehearsal. How is this multi-tracking virtual choir world happening?
Greg: It requires a lot of editing work. The tools for doing that on Mac is FinalcutPro, and LogicPro, both professional level packages. When the students are recording it’s important that they have a track that they’re listening to while making their recording, so that everyone is at the same tempo in the same key. Also, adding something like a clap to synchronize audio and video will help synchronize the files. If you’re not on a Mac, Adobe Premiere (video) and Adobe Audition (audio).
Miguel: Maya, how can we make the most of this unexpected challenge?
Maya: Look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Focus on the daily journey. Most of us are optimistic that we will be back in the fall. We don’t know when it will end, so we have to remain flexible, but we need to stay on track. I’m encouraging my students to stay engaged, focused, and moving forward. We must do this with our colleagues as well.
Miguel: Lisa, talk to us about community.
Lisa: One of my great joys is that my chorale is a family. My student leaders are building their own groups to do game nights. I’m organizing virtual coffee meetings with alums of the program, and we’re going to try an alumni virtual choir. We are fortunate that this semester we had time with our students, so there is a sense of organic sharing. We have a virtual rehearsal each Tuesday that serves as a check-in. At the end of each meeting I take a picture of the screen, and at the end of the semester I will give each Senior a book of those pictures.
Miguel: Any other comments?
Maya: Be aware of what resources are still available to our students on campus. Is the counseling center still open and are they doing virtual appointments? Our students often rely upon us for more than our academic discipline. I am a voice teacher and, while I want to be there to support my students, I want to be a voice teacher. I need to know what the resources are when they need them. My colleagues and I have been checking in on each other daily. Sometimes just a text, sometimes long conversations, or group video hangouts.
Miguel: I want to invite each panelist to make final comments on how we move forward.
Lisa: We don’t have all the answers for our students but we need to be able to say, “I don’t have the answer, but give me an hour!”
Stephanie: Keep your space as a positive place for students to keep music as a part of their lives. Stay flexible and adaptable to help them continue growing as artists and people.
Maya: Continue to challenge them. They won’t get anything positive from this experience if we just take a “that’s good enough” approach. We just have to do it with a greater understanding of who they are as humans, and of their individual situations.
Greg: Recognize that many of our students are more adept with technology than we are. This is a time when we can let them demonstrate that.