LHS Music Department, Disconnected in Distance Learning

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Grace Moulton and Tyler Olcese | Staff Writers

 

The Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) is implementing online distance learning for the 2020-2021 school year to keep students safe from the COVID-19 coronavirus, but it has caused a rift to grow between the students of Livermore High School’s music department, where group interactions are as important as the music itself.  

Page 30 of the LVJUSD student handbook states what the district has decided on for the music department this year. 

It said, “According to the CDC and ACPHD, music and choir are categorized as high risk due to the quantity of airborne microbes produced during these activities. We will not be able to conduct the majority of in-person music classes at this time. Those that can be offered will be conducted outdoors or done remotely using technology.” 

Livermore High School’s Choir teacher, Christopher Filice, explains that getting to know students is one of the hardest parts of distance learning this year.

 “With newer students, normally we do a lot of stuff in-person to help build community, and that is just way more challenging over the internet,” Filice said.

He has had to change his whole schedule around because of these new challenges but enjoys being pushed to use his creativity to deliver meaningful content. Filice really misses singing together in harmony with his students but stresses that everyone needs to continue quarantining correctly and staying safe. 

“But no matter how much I love singing in Choir, if it’s not safe, then I’m not going to do it,” Filice said. However, he also said, “as soon as science tells me it is safe, then rehearsal is starting at 8 a.m. that morning and no one is allowed to be late!”

This “science,” which is the word of medical experts and scientists guiding authorities in their decisions, says that to go to an optional hybrid schedule, the district needs to be off of California’s COVID-19 watch list for 2 weeks, and meet all of the state’s Department of Public Health requirements. As of this article, Alameda County has had around 21,000 reported cases, and about 390 deaths caused by the virus. 

The choir classes are trying to stay optimistic despite this situation, but Show and Chamber student Klarissa Cuenca, grade 12, notes that there seems to be uncertainty and hesitation.

 “We already kind of know that there’s a damper over that optimism… we want to say that everything’s gonna work out fine, but we know it’s most likely not going to happen,” Cuenca said.

One thing Cuenca really likes about this year is the voice lessons Mr. Filice has been putting on. They are one-on-one Google Meets where students bring in a song and Mr. Filice works directly with the student to improve their vocal capabilities. This allows the student to get immediate feedback and have a personal experience with Mr. Filice that they wouldn’t have had if they were in a regular school year. 

Regarding a possible hybrid schedule, Bridget Mayhew, another grade 12 choir student, feels that if people are going to follow the guidelines, then she’d be comfortable going back to school, but she doubts that will happen. 

“Knowing highschoolers, following rules is a little tricky, and they really just want to see their friends,” Mayhew said.

She agrees with Cuenca on the tone of the class this year. “The overall atmosphere of the choir is a little stiff and kind of awkward because all the new students haven’t had the in-person experiences with the older students that will help them work together as a choir,” said Mayhew.

 Students from the band share similar sentiments. “The atmosphere this year is more isolated,” said M.J. Loda, a grade 10 Symphonic Band player. For M.J., it’s difficult to express an opinion on the proposed hybrid schedule yet. “I don’t know,” is all he said.

 Online school has also proved a challenge for students submitting recordings of their playing, rather than participating live as they would in person. 

“I try to make it as perfect as possible, and then I run out of attempts,” Loda said.

Jasmine Jaura is a member of the Chamber Orchestra in grade 10 and has made observations regarding the group as a whole and within instrument groups. 

“It’s just harder to get to know each other and understand everyone’s playing style,” Jaura said. 

She explained that, as a student playing in this distant, online version of orchestra, it’s difficult to find the time to practice strictly by yourself every day, rather than getting time to play in daily classes with the support of other students. 

“The music is meant to be played in a group,” she said. “I think if we are able to go hybrid, I think that would be a great way just to get back into playing.”

Another member of the Chamber Orchestra, Claire Phillips, from grade 10, misses the energy of the in-person orchestra and interacting with her fellow musicians in general. 

“It’s a little more closed off,” Philips said about the classes this year, “we haven’t really bonded yet.” To her, the hybrid schedule seems like a strong alternative, once it’s safe. 

“As long as we’re spaced out, on the football field or something, I would feel comfortable doing that,” Philips said.

This missing companionship from the normal class has left Philips feeling downhearted. “It makes me not want to play my instrument,” she said.

During the classes of Justin Enright, the Instrumental Music Program director, students at home play their instruments on mute. He explained this is a major setback for the class, as he can no longer give each player individualized attention on a daily basis.  

“The hardest thing to transfer online is the comradery, the team-building aspects,” he said. “My only hope is that we can make it as fun and as easy as possible while still trying to push forward so that once we do go back to normal, everyone will want to continue on.” 

 Enright has many doubts about whether or not the music department will be a part of a hybrid schedule any time soon.

 “I don’t think we’re going to see normal again for at least another year and a half. Maybe winter 2021… We will not see normal until we can physically sit down in the same room and play together,” Enright said.

It’s disheartening to have the job he has loved for many years be robbed of many of the aspects that make it fun and enjoyable, but he recommends to focus on the positives. 

Based on present conditions, the music department at LHS will most likely not resume in-person classes in 2020. If you wish to learn more about the hybrid schedule, take a look at the LVJUSD student handbook to see a possible bell schedule based on cohorts.