Making Music in a Pandemic

June 1, 2021 3 min read

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic shifting learning from in-person to online numerous times throughout the school year, Calgary Academy staff and students have embraced the opportunities presented from these ever-changing realities. While indoor music programs have been limited this school year due to COVID-19 restrictions, Becky Funk, K-12 Music Teacher at CA, took a creative approach to ensure students still had the chance to participate in engaging music opportunities through the “Composer in Residence” program, which included a four-part Funk Band workshop series and an eight-week Concert Band series.

Supported by outside experts from the Music Creators’ Academy (MCA), an innovative program that composes and shares music in virtual environments, Becky has been able to shift to a fully online music environment and challenge students to create music and collaborate in new and fascinating ways.

People assumed that we couldn’t make music together online, but we justhave toshift ourperspective toview the internetas a different form of instrument and venue,” said Becky. 

Two faculty members of MCA, Dr. Benjamin Taylor and Dr. Garrett Hope, have been alternating monthly workshops with the Funk Band (grades 4-6). Each workshop challenged students to explore perspectives on musical creation, with focuses on improvisation and creation. For the Concert Band series (grades 7-12), Dr. Taylor has been working with students on composition and creation. The eight-week series will culminate in a live virtual concert on June 3 where the Concert Band will perform a composition they’ve created together.

Moving to a virtual world has forced a shift from tradition for bands. In addition to not being in the same physical space, video conferencing platforms have posed new questions about how to create music together, which students have answered by adjusting sound settings, using music-making objects found at home, and incorporating the chat and video functions into their compositions. Rather than being frustrated by these new elements, students have recognized technology’s ability to create a unique musical experience.

Funk Band had a relatively seamless transition to virtual rehearsals as it is common practice for them to bring funky instruments and ideas together to create original compositions. Concert Band, on the other hand, traditionally has specific instruments, songs, and rehearsal techniques associated with the ensemble that needed to be reconsidered and adapted to find success in this new format.

“The Concert Band had to go through a really big change and reimagine every aspect of our rehearsals, but the students have shown such patience, adaptability,and enthusiasm working through this new reality together all year,” emphasized Becky. 

As we all know too well, relationships are difficult to maintain online, and trust is crucial to any musical ensemble. In order to build an online culture that enables the learners to trust one another and take risks, relationship-building must be intentional, embedded, and treated with great care. One example of this was during the first meeting of the eight-week Concert Band series; Dr. Taylor made relationships and culture his priority, opening up about his personal interests and learning about the young musicians in return.

“It’s been really inspiring seeing the kids coming every week, always willing to try something new. Every week, rehearsal looks a bit different, but the young musicians’ enthusiasm and resilience haven’t changed,” said Becky.   

After the completion of the eight-week series, a live virtual concert will be held on June 3. Doors open at 4:45 p.m. and the concert begins at 5 p.m. All parents are invited to join the virtual concert. Interested parents should check the parent newsletter for the zoom event concert information.