BAR HARBOR— For the 2020 school year, operating amid a pandemic, Mount Desert Island High School’s music directors have been forced to reinvent their methods of teaching in order to continue music education at the school. Band teacher, Michael Remy, and chorus instructor, Browyn Kortge, said they have found these alternatives to be even more beneficial than anticipated and could continue them after the pandemic has ended.
Before the coronavirus was declared a national emergency in March, Remy began brainstorming practical ways for the music department to teach during a potential pandemic. Initially, he imagined he would pull students from classes for 20-minute lessons. That idea seemed feasible until Aug. 1, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with the Maine Department of Education, announced that singing and the use of wind instruments had the potential to transmit COVID-19.
By the time students returned to in-person learning in the fall, Remy and Kortge made all private lessons virtual to accommodate CDC guidelines. Though he said that he misses the social aspect of a live rehearsal, he has grown to appreciate the time he has with each student. “I feel like I’m able to make a huge difference with this one-on-one time,” Remy said.
Most of their group instruction is now done virtually via a live teaching app available to all students, while some in-person ensemble lessons have moved outdoors. Kortge said that the real-life choral rehearsals are shorter than the virtual rehearsals. “I sing and play people’s parts and they listen, mute and sing along. I cannot hear them, and they cannot hear each other. I’ll have to wait until their lesson to hear how they are doing on that part, and they’ll have to wait until their lesson to get feedback from me.” At times, she said she will direct students to mute and unmute themselves so she can give feedback.
Remy’s virtual group instruction involves nonspecific instrument tasks for students, such as music theory and team–building exercises. Though the instruction is primarily online, Remy said he tries to take the ensemble outside as much as he can. When students practice outside, they wear masks and stay greatly distanced.
Thankfully, the high school has also been able to continue music instruction with help from the federal COVID relief funds. Now all 110 singers and instrument players are equipped with their own USB microphone, which is compatible with the students’ computers. The gadgets can be used to practice and perform anywhere.
MDI High School also used the COVID relief funds to purchase a computer program called Soundtrap that can be used by all students in the music department. The program is a collaborative recording workstation, which, according to Remy, is a space where “students can create musical projects together by adding and removing each other’s recordings online.”
As for the show choir, auditions will be virtual this year, as will all district and state festivals. “I’m really trying to think outside the box when it comes to how to combine our voices together and how to choreograph together – and thinking of doing some of it outdoors – so I’m considering that too when I’m considering what music we’ll do and what our theme will be,” said Kortge.
The performances will most likely be prerecorded. Unlike other instructors, Remy is leaving it up to the jazz band competitors as to whether or not they want to participate in the state-wide event, saying, “If the students don’t want to compete, they don’t have to.”
Both Remy and Kortge say they are grateful to continue teaching music during these times. Regardless of what happens, Remy said he plans to incorporate some of the private lessons into the music curriculum permanently. Since “the music program is getting so big,” he said he would like to continue private instruction for years to come.