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Choosing the RIGHT Distance Learning Option! - Choral Clarity
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Choosing the RIGHT Distance Learning Option!

This is a time like no other. Most of our schools are closed indefinitely as we are grieving the loss of our choral year; now we are left finding a brand new way to do our job while living our personal life in crisis/survival mode.

How do we navigate this ever-changing world, living with instability and fear, while attempting to create a new mode of teaching and learning?

WA Madrigals Virtual Choir – The Road Home

Learned independently, and recorded remotely, please enjoy Madrigal’s virtual choir performance of The Road Home, by Stephen Paulus.—Tell me, where is the roadI can call my own,That I left, that I lost,So long ago?All these years I have wandered,Oh, when will I know,There's a way, there's a road,That will lead me home.After wind, after rain,When the dark is done,As I wake from a dream,In the gold of day,Through the air there's a callingFrom far away,There's a voice I can hear,That will lead me home.Rise up, follow me,Come away, is the call,With the love in your heart,As the only song.There is no such beauty,As where you belong,Rise up, follow me,I will lead you home.

Posted by West Aurora Choir on Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Isn’t this inspiring?

Their Choral Director, Brian N. Smith, wrote this message above this video that he posted:
Our students found out on Friday about our school closure with some upcoming major performances in danger. Friday night, determined to make lemonade out of lemons, this group decided to make a virtual choir video as many have mentioned already in this group.
I know many have posted asking about the process for this type of project. Saturday morning I gave them a marked score, along with a conducting video set to a reference recording. These videos were due back to me Monday evening. I used LogicPro to edit the audio, and Final Cut for the video, though I’m sure you can get by with less. I would describe myself as an intermediate user of both pieces of software. In all, with 22 recordings, I’d estimate it took me about 20 hours of editing (and waiting for my slower computer to catch up to what I was asking it to do.)

There’s choral inspiration everywhere, isn’t there?

Whether in our Choral Clarity Facebook community, or any other choral group on the internet, there are so many inspiring choral recordings, and so many technology-based or research-based teaching approaches that could be worthwhile for our students. Generous choral directors from around the country have been sharing their unique assignment ideas for distance learning.

So what approach is right for us? What approach is right for our students? Do we try to engage our singers with challenging choral projects or assignments? Do we attempt a virtual choir?

How do we navigate the ominous waters of enriching the lives of our singers, knowing full well that what we’re assigning isn’t what they initially signed up for?

Nothing compares to traditional, in-person, choral rehearsals. We may see the value of the myriad of choral assignments being shared by our creative colleagues but we must also ask, “are these assignments emotionally beneficial for our students in their current state?”

Here’s one idea, but certainly not the RIGHT approach for everyone.

Sifting through SO MANY distance learning ideas is DRAINING

Virtually every technology-based online company is graciously offering free educational subscriptions for our students. We now have endless new online options to explore in addition to traditional research-based projects. As I’ve brainstormed approach after approach, I quickly became overwhelmed and lost my desire to find my right approach..

Currently, I am giving my singers daily Smart Music/Sight Reading Factory homework and note/rhythm labeling assignments (normally this would be given weekly) as this has already been a supplement to my class. These daily assignments, graded as pass/fail only, began when my school first announced it was initially shut down on the 9th of March. As the length of school closure began to extend, I realized I needed to offer my students more than non-invasive, supplemental, rudimentary skill-based learning.

My mental energy level for finding a substitution for daily choir has been virtually non-existent; I’ve primarily been focused on my own health and well-being, keeping my family healthy, and frankly, the health of our entire world. I’m worried about our future and if we will ever return to a normal life again. I don’t have the energy to choose the right “creative”, work-heavy projects for my students to do, nor do I believe my students need this work from us; they have just as much on their emotional plate as we do, along with the tangible work that other teacher are throwing at them.

Finding Choral Clarity – What approach is RIGHT for us?

The purpose of the Choral Clarity blog is to help choral directors find the reason why they do what they do. So how do we find the right approach for our students?

In my opinion, the clarity comes from our big picture. What is the essence of our choir: in my case, it is building a loving community where we make beautiful music together.

The best thing I can do is find a way to continue to instill the sense of community we’ve built within our ensemble. Whether this means creating a daily inspirational video, holding a zoom class meeting, sending a daily email, utilizing discussions in google classroom, or sharing a live google doc, I first need to find a way to keep our human connection going, followed by the connection of our group members to each other. In our choral rehearsals, deep music-making is a bi-product of the human connection; we need to view our distance-learning approach through the lens of building community and connection.

While I don’t know your individual situations, I would like to offer a few generalized suggestions: we must stop thinking about our next concert, or the one that we will likely lose; now is the time to reaffirm the family that we have built. So many of our students have gained emotional stability from our choral family; this family has been completely ripped from them and now is the time to start rebuilding it.

Building Community & Inspiring Music-Making

In my opinion, now is not the time to validate what we do; instead, this is the time to offer compassion, connection, and inspiration. The assignments we require of our students should be useful, yet minimal; if we don’t fill their time with skill-based activities, we can reach them in a more encompassing way.

I’m not suggesting we give up on effective teaching or eliminate singing during this time of distance learning; I am suggesting that we must realize our students’ need to first feel loved, cared for, and regain a sense of connection within our choral community. We need to re-establish this in our newly-distanced, virtual world.

When our students gain inspiration from us and feed off each other, many will choose to engage, create, and collaborate: their self-actualized projects may be beyond our realm of capabilities. if we get them to see all the things they can do, they may make musical self-discoveries that can alter the rest of their lives. Maybe they create their own virtual choir, or begin researching a certain composer. Maybe they begin composing and singing all the parts. Maybe they send out vocal tracks or sheet music to a bunch of choir members and collaborate without teacher involvement. We want to foster their desire and open up doors; we do this through inspiration and instilling a sense of community.

These discoveries are only capable when we spark our students, rather than assign our students with work. The eight student-run a-cappella groups at my high school were formed because I didn’t burden my choir members with extra choir rehearsals after school; by giving my students a concentrated amount of teacher-led time, they became hungry for more. (On a side note, I’m super curious to see what my student-run a-cappella groups are going to do through this time of distance-learning).

Some students will be disconnected, and that is ok!

If some of our students are not interested in completing even the most basic work we assign, that is okay. Our priority should be building community and allowing each student the opportunity to engage where they are at. Our goal is to try to reach each one, not to get them to complete their assignments.

What we are currently experiencing in the world is perhaps the most universally trying time but it is also the most unique educational experience of our lifetime; let’s be inspirational and allow love and music to flow into the fabric of our students’ collective lives. 

By | 2020-03-23T06:32:54-04:00 March 22nd, 2020|Distance Learning, Homework, The Healthy Teacher|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 21-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla, and son, Nolan.

5 Comments

  1. Joanne Tucker March 23, 2020 at 9:28 am - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more. Thanks!

  2. Jenn March 23, 2020 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Adam, thank you so very much for this post. I thought I was the only one feeling this way so I am comforted to know that I have lots fo company. I really enjoy you’re posts and not only learn from them, but am inspired by them. Keep up the great work!!

  3. Dr. Michele Yampolsky March 29, 2020 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Thank you for validating what my instincts were telling me. The connection with our students is what really enables us to make beautiful music with them. I want music to be part of their daily life experience.. sending videos, thoughts and a google meet has helped us continue to build community.

  4. Jodi March 30, 2020 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    I appreciate this perspective, but are you in a school where you can’t grade during this season? I’m pretty sure the expectation on me is to keep assigning work, because they’re getting credit for these school days. I would love to feel relieved of that pressure, but for now this seems a bit idealized to me. Or are you just making encouragements to teachers not to pile on too many passion projects? I would assume you’d maybe say a little of both.

    • Adam Paltrowitz March 30, 2020 at 1:30 pm - Reply

      Jodi, thanks for sharing your comment. In my district, we are currently required to give daily assignments and they count as pass/fail. Regardless of the grading system, my goal is to not make the assignments feel like busy work. I do this by limiting the quantity, focusing on quality assignments that I can justify to my students, and then spending time fostering above-and-beyond ideas that they may be inspired to accomplish.

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