There have been some seismic developments in public education over the last few weeks. They are exciting transitions that educators have been waiting over a year for. Understandably, the shift to return more students to the classroom amid a pandemic has left some feeling like it is not time. Both are valid in their feelings.
Most of my career has been in music education. In my time at Las Cruces Public Schools, until this past year, there has never been a moment where the task and challenge of shifting and adapting have been so difficult. Last year, around this time, our music students were full of anticipation for our music performance assessments (MPA). They are our most important, most anticipated events of the year and our students and teachers look forward to performing in front of their parents, peers, and adjudicators. At the time, band students had just wrapped up MPA, while choir and orchestra students were told an extended Spring Break would delay or cancel their scheduled performances.
Those moments soon became lost opportunities. Add to that, all the other K-12 school concerts that never happened. Our music students joined thousands of athletes and other students whose cocurricular activities inside and outside of the school day were taken away out of caution for everyone’s health. We get it – the decision was a vital one.
Another shift came when remote learning became the vehicle for our curriculum. Music teachers understand very well that there is no replacement for in-person learning, but that is where we found ourselves last spring semester. LCPS did its absolute best to provide remote scenarios for music students but learning in a new modality was difficult. As a music teacher, how do I help my students who struggle with virtual engagement or will not turn on their camera in a Zoom class? A subject that thrives via hands on, group activity where growth occurs through in–the–moment assessment?
Additionally, you might be surprised to know there are no streaming platforms that allow music to be performed live, simultaneously, due to internet latency speeds. The group concerts you might have seen online or on television are not the reality of what a music class looks or sounds like in Zoom. The performances you have seen are all are recordings where students individually record their part alone at home. The recordings are then combined and edited for a single audio track, with video added and edited for a final production. It is impossible for multiple musicians to attempt to live stream from their separate homes on any group meeting platform.
Despite the challenges, our music students celebrated some exciting accomplishments this school year, all done through the magic of video editing. Centennial High School’s Bella Voce choir, under the direction of Christa Frederickson, and the Las Cruces High School Wind Symphony, directed by Ty Frederick and Tai Mikulecky, were selected as 2021 honor ensembles by the New Mexico Music Educators Association. As exciting as their selection was, not being able to perform live was disappointing for our teachers and students, but they never lost focus and instead embraced the new opportunity resulting in a beautifully artistic video production. Many of our music programs did the same, hosting their own virtual concerts.
Amid this turbulent year, it has been the hope of opportunity to make music together again that has kept our teachers and students going. Most recently, we saw our football players return to the field and with them, our high school bands, thanks to the quick work of our superintendent, athletic director, and band directors who made it possible for our students to participate in a safe environment. While some many were focused on the game, my eyes were drawn to the students who were thrilled to be there and finally connect with one another as well as to the band parent who got to see her son, a senior and a drum major, conduct the band for the very first time.
Shifting and adapting will continue to be two pillars of planning as music returns to the classroom, but at least we have the opportunity to play and sing together again. While the past year has been incredibly difficult, our teachers and students did their best to overcome obstacles, move forward and grow, seize opportunities, and – most importantly – continue to learn and make music. I am incredibly proud of them and all the fine arts teachers and students of LCPS who have made shifting and adapting an art form.
-Joseph Flores is the K-12 Fine Arts Content Specialist for Las Cruces Public Schools