The show—that is singing and playing instruments—must go on for choir and band students during the distance learning period from March 30 to April 30. As plans were formulating, students took home their instruments on March 17 and other school instruments were delivered on March 27.
The tools for online music instruction are non-traditional, interactive and overwhelming, according to Wadena-Deer Creek fifth to 12th grade choir director Mike Ortmann. Although, he and fifth to 12th grade band director Lisa Weniger are grateful for the time to explore as well as for resources through Facebook groups, which is how Weniger said they found Sight Reading Factory. The program allows teachers to set specific parameters, such as key and time signatures, for the students to record themselves playing or singing. Students can record themselves as many times as they like before submitting their video.
“It’s not our traditional class, that’s for sure, and we’d much rather be preparing for a concert but we’re going to make the best of it,” Ortmann said.
As students are in non-traditional settings, teachers are sending out assignments through Google Classroom. Weniger said band students in fifth to eighth grade will continue completing lessons similar to the format of emailing videos of certain lines of music, though with Sight Reading Factory instead. The high school band students will focus on self-reflection and contrasting elements of different concerts on YouTube, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
While students are missing out on important group learning, teachers are also missing out on seeing their students daily interactions.
“The junior high quirkiness,” Weniger said about what she misses with her students. “I just love that. They’re just silly and I just I miss that.”
For choir students in fifth and sixth grade, Ortmann said they will listen to different styles of music and note aspects they enjoyed as well as disliked. In another assignment, students and parents will watch a video to listen for artists from different eras. Ortmann also found an interactive website with the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame Museum and another website about instruments from around the world.
The goal is to keep students singing and playing music, which can even be combined with calling family members or friends or going outside, according to Weniger. A fun way students can complete these tasks are through music bingo sheets, which Ortmann combined from three or four other teachers’ bingo sheets. The items might be to sing with the birds or perform a concert for your grandparents over FaceTime, as Weniger suggested.
The additional elements are ones that Weniger and Ortmann normally don’t have time to include in their typical class settings.
Ortmann and Weniger are continuing to meet the state standards through assignments such as creating a composition with a designated rhythm. Ortmann is also considering discussions on music career options besides choir and band directors. Each assignment, like all of those at WDC, are meant to follow Gov. Tim Walz’s orders of being purposeful and meaningful.
“That’s what we don’t want to overwhelm them with, just tons of busywork for the sake of busywork,” Ortmann said.
The busywork will not find its way into music classes, though recognition of the Pops concert will. Students have the most fun during this concert, according to Ortmann. So Weniger and Ortmann have plans to continue the fun by having students create their own program after listening to songs online and selecting their favorites.
“I had a mom in here last week picking up her child’s instrument and all of a sudden it really kind of hit her that this Pops concert’s not going to happen and she broke down, she was in tears. She looks forward to that concert every year,” Weniger said.
Ortmann added the concert is not officially canceled as of Friday, March 27. He and Weniger discussed how the Pops concert is usually a special time to honor the seniors for their dedication to the program, especially since students can become involved beginning in fifth grade, forming not only a love for music but also tight bonds with the teachers.
“Making music, that’s what we wake up for is to make music with our kids,” Weniger said.
While the method of teaching and learning has drastically changed, the intent has not.
“Music is a release for a lot of people and we want to keep it that way and let them just enjoy the moment of music,” Ortmann said.
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