Making Music Together, While Apart

Inspired by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring released on March 22, Head of Music Ms. Nancy Promane and Music Associate Mr. Jordan Zero set about figuring out what would be involved in doing something similar, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, with their Grade 11/12 Music students.


“We wanted to find something engaging for the students to be able to put together easily and feel a sense of accomplishment,” explained Ms. Promane. “Ordinarily, we might have assigned this piece to the Grade 9s, but decided to start with a simpler piece for the Grade 11/12s, and if successful, add the Grade 10s and then the 9s to the mix with additional pieces.”
 
The turn around time for the students to submit their video assignment was two days. Both teachers attribute Eden Saley ’21 with introducing the idea of completing their piece in time to submit for last week’s Coffeehouse performance.
 
Mr. Zero approached the technology issue head-on, creating a click track or metronome effect for the students to listen to on their headphones and play along in sync. Each submission was a different size, audio quality and volume, which made for a tricky, yet fun editing challenge. He used OpenShot, a free service, to edit together the 11 submissions, which involved details like lining up everyone’s fingers so they all moved in unison.
 
 “The students used whatever was available to record their piece – some had their parents record, others did it on their phone or laptops,” explained Mr. Zero. These inconsistencies led to cool effects in the final video, with each submission appearing as an uneven puzzle piece, and when the students turn off their devices at the end, it appears as if they are intentionally signing off independently.

When Ms. Promane found herself without any arrangements to share, she reached out to a publisher in Oshawa that does small and full ensemble arrangements and asked him to send a small ensemble score. Instead, he sent the full ensemble, which prompted them to ask more of their experienced musicians, including Nevis Hunt ’21 (Trumpet 1 & 2) and Jamie Dibble ’20 (Alto Sax 1 & 2), who willingly recorded multiple parts to allow for a more robust and grand sound overall.
 
“They are all really great kids and they really wanted to do a great job with this,” said Ms. Promane. “I also think it was also very rewarding for them. But the icing on the cake was once Mr. Zero was able to mix it all together, I reached out to the composer and shared it with him. We then invited him to join us [virtually] in our class (post Coffeehouse) to offer feedback and share what it’s like to be a composer.”
 
Last Friday, the Grade 11/12 spent close to an hour (they went overtime) and a half chatting with Ryan Meeboer, the composer of Shimmerthe piece they had performed “together” at Coffeehouse the previous evening. Mr. Meeboer offered a lot of good feedback and answered a question posed by each student.

“It’s just a different way of learning,” says Ms. Promane. “As musicians, we really miss the interaction of being a community and making music all in the same room so that we can feed off each other’s experience and emote even more with the music. Sometimes that’s really difficult to do when you’re sitting in your bedroom with a set of headphones and a click track playing music. There are a lot of lessons musically in this, not just socially or emotionally, but also having to make as much out of the music as you possibly can within the confines of your four walls.”
 
Music really does create a sense of community, and by helping their students continue to make music together remotely, it can remain meaningful and purposeful for them, perhaps even more so in these times. Ms. Promane and Mr. Zero join them in their enthusiasm and have invited the Grade 10s to join the Grade 11/12 class in the next effort. Meanwhile, the Grade 9 Music students submitted their individual parts this week and their piece will be shared in its entirety in the near future.
 
“When you look at all the news and how important a role music is playing in everyone’s lives these days – it really says something,” says Ms. Promane. “Those of us who teach it and those of us who are studying it as a course, probably internalize it the most and can benefit a great deal.”
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Founded in 1972, The Country Day School is a co-educational private school offering programs in JK-12 and located on 100 acres north of Toronto in King.