Making music in isolation

The commencement of Term 2 saw the whole school curriculum online for the first time in the history of St Margaret’s and, with almost half of our primary students and a third of our secondary students engaged in the music program, the way students make music took on a whole new meaning during isolation.

The way that teaching and learning has been delivered for the music program has seen a dramatic shift with the same learning programs delivered online through the use of interactive video platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Flipgrid and Soundtrap.

St Margaret’s Head of Music Mr Brad King said that during these times of isolation, music has been a superb way to stay connected with others as well as enhance well-being.

“It has been wonderful to see how music has been used as a means of connecting with others in our community throughout the Coronavirus crisis – whether it be through people singing on their balconies in Italy, couch choirs, online concerts or other musical collaborations,” he said.

In fact, St Margaret’s students involved in the senior rock band adopted their own version of a “couch choir” recently, recording a rendition of Seasons of Love from the musical Rent. The virtual performance was the brainchild of Mr King and required the students to video record themselves singing, or playing, the song on their phones which Mr King then compiled in Adobe Premier Pro.

“I thought the lyrics were beautiful and really resonated with this time,” Mr King said.

Judging by the comments from viewers on Facebook, the community couldn’t agree more.

“So beautiful”

“Beautiful! Great song choice! Miss you all”

“What a lovely way to end an iso-Tuesday”

“Beautiful girls, brought a tear”

“Just delightful. Thank you, girls and Mr King. Beautifully executed musical performance. I could listen to this all day.”

Watch and listen to the recording here.

Mr King said: “There is no replacement for coming together and making music, so we are working on many similar innovative online performance projects to maintain that all important connection through the magic of making music together.”

The online experience has been a wonderful learning opportunity for the music teachers and students with many of the teachers relishing the challenge to find new and innovative way to deliver content and engage with students musically in an online environment.

Music lessons are being delivered through a combination of Microsoft Teams, Flipgrid and an enormous number of pre prepared video resources which are assisting students with everything from how to hold their bow to correct finger placements. During their online lessons, students are engaged in a variety of activities, rhythmic games, demonstrations to the teacher and their peers and viewing teacher demonstrations.

It is all very engaging and there are many opportunities for feedback.

In fact, Mr King said the feedback process is one of the many upsides that has come out of online music learning.

“We are rethinking the way the pedagogy is delivered and we have really appreciated being able to give the girls more individualised feedback. I think in a way we are more aware of where each individual student is sitting. Often in a classroom or a choir, some students might fly under the radar a little, but now that we are using software programs like Flipgrid, every single student is constantly uploading video recordings of themselves and so we are getting a very clear sense of where each student is at and what we need to do to support each student to improve.

“Our Year 7 students, for example, are learning to play piano keyboard. Every week they upload a video of where they are at and the teachers can easily view the recording and provide instant video feedback to the girls,” he said.

So effective have been the interactive platforms, many will continue to be used as part of the music curriculum even when students are back in the physical classroom. Programs like Soundtrap for collaboration and Flipgrid for music recording and a means of providing individualised feedback will continue to be used.

For music ensembles, online music rehearsals are being conducted through Microsoft Teams with some ensembles involved in multitracked recordings whilst others are recording video performances of themselves to be collated as a whole.

Students involved in private music lessons will be able to showcase their performances through video in a new initiative called St Margaret’s Spotlight which will be shared on the school’s online learning management platform, the POD.

Given we aren’t having any recitals at the moment, we thought it would be a great opportunity for girls to share their music and also give them a goal to work towards. This is also happening in ensemble rehearsals where conductors are asking students to volunteer a solo performance to share with the rest of the group each week,” said Mr King.

The teachers and conductors say they are seeing robust improvement in the girls vocal and instrumental skills both in the virtual classroom and ensemble and choral groups. Whether it is due to the opportunities for more practise as a result of being confined to their homes, the benefit of the interactive platforms or the opportunity to express themselves creatively through music during these uncertain times, the girls are making great progress.

Commenting on her experience of making music in isolation, Year 11 student Paige Bastian said: “I am enjoying Encorah and Exultate, and seeing everyone come together through the Seasons of Love online performance brightened my day.

“I couldn’t help but think this experience is revealing how strong the St Margaret’s music community is – and it is only getting stronger!

“I am so grateful for our music community,” said Paige.

Mr King said: “There is a lot of research on the way music can be used to build community and I feel this is an especially important philosophy during this time when we are physically not seeing each other.”