Music continues despite a quiet campus

UW-Eau Claire music and theatre arts department discusses alternate methods of teaching

Students in a band play instruments.

Photo by Submitted

Since the UW-Eau Claire transition to online instruction for the spring 2020 semester, the music and arts department on campus faces new challenges. The department decided to cancel all further performances and rehearsals.

Gov. Tony Evers and many political figures say they are focused on the population’s health and safety throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As large groups are discouraged from gathering and the people remain indoors, artists now face unique obstacles — for both celebrities and UW-Eau Claire students. 

Chancellor James Schmidt announced on Friday, March 20 that UW-Eau Claire would transition all university courses to online instruction for the rest of the spring semester.

Gretchen Peters, chair of the music and theatre arts department at UW-Eau Claire, said the initial announcement was not taken lightly by all who are involved within the department.

“When the announcement was made, the number of things that we had to cancel for just last weekend alone was heartbreaking,” Peters said. “All of a sudden, all these things that people had been working on for — like with ‘James in the Giant Peach’ and students preparing for ‘Cello Palooza’ — we have canceled.” 

Performances of “James and the Giant Peach” were originally scheduled for March 6 through 8 and 12 through 15, with the addition of “sensory friendly performances” at 10 a.m. on March 7 and 14.

Sam Stein, a second-year music composition and math student, said it was disappointing to hear the initial news of the cancelation of music and theater arts performances. 

The cancelations included the second weekend performances of “James and the Giant Peach,” where Stein was the lead student conductor for the play.  

“We were lucky to get one weekend in with the play, but then no one really knew that was gonna be the last weekend,” Stein said. “We were all prepared for another week of performances, my parents were on their way to see it when we got the email.”

Peters said her biggest concern lies with the experiential-based courses that are difficult to replicate through an online classroom medium, especially for students who may not have the resources at home.

“One of the most difficult (courses) will be actually tied to piano,” Peters said. “A number of our students don’t have a piano and it will almost be a redefinition of what the goals of the course are. Students can learn a lot about piano music, but unless you have a piano where you are, it’s going to be very difficult to be able to move ahead.”

Rebecca Barrett, a first-year music education of voice and flute student, said the short and long-term effects of the online transition place a major concern on the music ensembles throughout the university. 

At home, Barrett said, she does not have the appropriate resources to participate in her current music courses for the spring term.

“I am very unsure about how well things will go with online instruction. I know that I won’t be learning to my full potential this way,” Barrett said. “If online instruction continues into the fall semester, personally I would temporarily suspend my music degree at UW-Eau Claire until in person classes resume because I know I can not access my full potential this way.”

Stein said that, although he is one of the luckier individuals in this scenario, he attempts to find reassurance through others who are experiencing similar scenarios as him throughout the shift to online classes. 

“With having this happen in the middle of my schooling career, I’m going to be inevitably missing out on some sort of education,” Stein said. “But then again, it’s happening to literally everyone right now. I think we’re all in the same boat and feeling like we’re getting behind — but we’re all getting behind together.”

Stein said he admires the efforts of both locally and nationally-known musicians, who continue to share their music to an online audience even though they are without jobs because of public health restrictions. 

“Obviously, we can’t play for an (in person) audience,” Stein said. “But with the internet, my favorite is how artists in general are trying to livestream their work and doing whatever they can to still get the creative juices flowing out into the world and to an audience.”

Peters said there have been extensive discussions amongst the music and theatre arts faculty about suggestions throughout the transition to online instruction. 

It is beneficial to be mindful of all types of resources students and faculty need during this time, as well as relying on faculty members who have already been teaching online for some time and have recommendations, Peters said.

“There is a lot of discussion, support and experimentation going on by faculty to get things up and moving online and faculty are very mindful of that,” Peters said. “Students are all in different places, as far as their ability to take advantage of online instruction. Depending on where their town is located, they might not have great internet connection and it really might not be possible.”

The educators she has worked alongside throughout the transition have been extremely helpful in gaining clarity towards her music related courses, Barrett said.

“They have communicated clearly their thoughts on this (issue) and even some unsure thoughts of how to proceed,” Barrett said. “I have been provided resources to work with such as free to watch operas and frequent email updates from my voice professor. This is new to all of my professors, and they are trying their best to work with us through it.”

Stein said there are different alternatives to support creatives and local talent as the pandemic continues and encourages all to make an effort, no matter how small it might be. 

“We have got to try to find a way to keep them afloat during this time. Certain musicians are just out of a job right now and even small businesses too, might collapse if it goes on too long,” Stein said. “Try to find a way to support music online — if you can — buy things instead of streaming online if you can afford it. That is a good way.”

Barrett said she will not allow herself to do nothing during the abundance of time she now has in quarantine. She said she will use the time to make an impact on others.

“I know that I can’t allow myself to sit and do nothing,” Barrett said. “I will be increasing my time spent practicing music and improving my art. I want to take this as an opportunity to grow instead of stay stagnant. I also want to find ways to help out my community, so I am thinking of applying to work at my local grocery store to help out.”

For more updates on the transition to online instruction for music and theatre arts, follow up with [email protected] and the UW-Eau Claire Chancellor’s Office.

Nelson can be reached at [email protected]