How COVID-19 has affected Northwest’s choir program

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Northwest students prepare for a choir concert before the pandemic.

As we know, online learning has been difficult. Faulty connection, lack of motivation staring at a computer all day; this pandemic has hit the education system hard. Many programs rely on in-person classes, Northwest’s choir program being among those. 

“[The most challenging part is] not being able to sing together,” Northwest choir teacher Andrey Dancy said. “If you’ve ever been a part of a musical ensemble, you know the excitement you feel when you’re singing or playing together. That group interaction is key and is nearly impossible in a virtual world.” 

Limited technology has made choir difficult. Without being able to sing together and hear how the group sounds as a whole, the definition of a “normal” choir class has changed. 

“Technology has limitations for being able to sing at the same time, so I have had to be creative,” Dancy said. “ Honestly, there’s nothing normal about this year. I do appreciate the fact that we have had an opportunity to explore more music topics than in a regular school year.”

Many of the art teachers have adapted to online classes. For choir, Dancy has used technology to simulate the effect of singing together. 

“We use an online tool called Sightreading Factory where students submit recordings of them reading short musical exercises. We’ve also had several virtual choir submissions,” Dancy said. “There is no way to hear the group as a whole. Technology limits that. Each singer records their part to a backing track, then all of the parts are put together. It’s not perfect, but it allows us to sing ‘together’ for now.”

While technology can be useful, it has also proven itself a hindrance to learning for teachers and students alike.

“[The] audio sometimes goes out, or your screen freezes,” sophomore Kirialysse Nieves said. “Other times Teams doesn’t let you get in for a few minutes and makes you late to class.”

Teachers experience problems as well, especially when they are unable to move around while teaching.

“One of the biggest struggles is making sure students can see and hear me. In a normal class, I move around a lot,” Dancy said. “Now that I’m sitting at a computer, I use two cameras and an external microphone. So, I often have to make sure the right camera is on me when I’m at my desk or the piano. Also, the dreaded record button. Luckily students remind me when I forget.” 

Music classes are known to be interactive. Collaboration is essential to the choir. For many students, singing together as a whole was an unparalleled experience. For the most part, the choir is unable to be as interactive as they’d like. Classes consist of less singing and more discussions.

“We sometimes have a more ‘formal’ listening exercise. It may be a piece we are working on or centered around a topic that we are discussing. We usually have a lecture/discussion about varied musical topics,” Dancy said. “Currently, we are looking at African-American contributions to music. And then we rehearse a piece. We just started new music in every class.”

Singing is conducted independently in class. This way of learning is a significant change from the in-person choir.

“We leave ourselves on mute when we sing, our teacher just hopes that we know what we’re doing,” senior Brody Hilton said. “I miss simply being around people and having a good interactive learning experience.”

The lack of socialization is something many relate to during this pandemic. Many of the music programs had concerts and other events, all of which have been virtual or canceled. The choir has recorded several songs for a Holiday Virtual Concert in December, which was posted on the Northwest website. 

“The concerts sound good, it’s nice to see the final product,” Nieves said. “However, I miss the connection you make with the teachers, the memories you make with certain events and the socialization with your peers.” 

Even with the lack of socialization, students are trying to make the best of this situation. Some take advantage of the extra practice time. 

“Certain times (the best thing about chorus is) being able to go over music quietly to yourself, or having your mic muted and singing along with the piano without distracting other classmates, so that’s nice,” Nieves said.“Other times, just seeing people you know in the meeting with you (is another positive).” 

Others are enjoying the perks that come with online classes.

“The only good thing I see from (online class) is that I don’t have to worry about getting dressed,” Hilton said. 

Most teachers are excited to return to school, but Dancy is unsure of how the choir program will look if we return to school. He is unsure if singing will be possible with the use of masks.

“I am still waiting for guidance from the district on what we will be able to do when we return in person,” Dancy said. “As of now, we will likely continue discussing a wide variety of music topics. We will also supplement that with more singing, but it may have to be at home independently for now.”

Whatever classes look like in the coming weeks, the choir will continue to adapt. Even if they are missing a crucial component.

“Singing together! It’s what we’re all missing in choir right now. When we can sing again together, it will be an emotional experience for everyone, ” Dancy said. “A choir is a family. I am working to make sure that family still exists. Whether we’re in person or remote, I want to continue the legacy of excellence in music at Northwest. What an honor to teach with some of the best in the nation!