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Music majors share pros and cons of online classes

By Julia Duggan
Senior Staff Writer

With the fall semester in the past, everyone in the music department is looking forward to the start of the spring semester. During the break, students and professors had time to reflect on the efficiency of online classes, and how best to carry on moving into the ‘flex’ semester.

“The main factor preventing the classes from mimicking live rehearsals was the Zoom latency,” said Shrish Jawadiwar, a senior political science and music double major. “It is impossible to play simultaneously without a cacophonous racket when every person has a slightly different internet speed.”

Students and professors mentioned the difficulty of rehearsing together for the performance classes. This could be small group ensembles like a saxophone quartet or large group ensembles like a band or choir.

“The technology just does not exist yet to do that well,” said Professor Adam Warshafsky, the Assistant Director of Bands. “There are some programs that are being developed and they are trying to find ways for that to happen, but there is still not an easy way to do that.”

Some students faced problems using the current technology available during private lessons. Some students mentioned that pets would make unannounced appearances and sometimes the internet would cut out in the middle of a demonstration.

“I was tired of video calls,” said Meaghanne McBride, a senior Japanese and music double major. “I felt like nobody could hear what I was doing because of it.”

The students were still busy in ensemble classes. Since they could not practice together as a group, students were composing, studying scores, improving their knowledge in theory and recording themselves. Warshafsky mentioned that the other aspects of music only increase a musician’s ability to perform and work well in a group.

“My ensemble classes included either short essays or music theory exercises as part of the curriculum,” said Jawadiwar. “While all of my music classes required me to record my part, which was then mixed with the recordings of my classmates, [the separate recordings had helped] to produce a final recording.”

Besides performance classes, there are also lecture and discussion-based classes offered in the music department. These classes include studying music history and music theory and composition.

“There were minor changes, mostly regarding access to material and strategies for generating discussion, such as breakout rooms on Zoom,” said Dr. Wayne Heisler, Professor of Historical Cultural Studies in Music.

Students and Dr. Wayne Heisler (pictured) in the music department reflect on the fall 2020 semester and share what worked well for them (tcnj.edu).

Students agree that some classes worked better online than others. McBride stated that the professors did their best to adapt to the online format. 

“The other music class I did, the user-centered musical design, actually worked really well over the virtual online format,” said McBride. “With the exception that we had to make a physical object for that class. We were able to get into Mayo Concert Hall at one point (to test the object), but right after that the numbers started up-ticking. We were originally going to do a second testing in the concert hall, but we had to cancel.”

Even though there were a few challenges for teaching music online, the students and professors agree there were some unexpected benefits.

“Overall, I think that the students learned as much and were engaged just as they would have been in the classroom,” said Heisler. “In some cases, I felt that participation in discussion was stronger — I really felt that I was able to form a relationship with the students and even get to know them individually. The latter was aided by one-on-one office hour meetings via Zoom.”

Despite the challenges of the fall semester, students and professors were satisfied by the outcome.

“I received numerous unsolicited emails from students at the end of the semester expressing how much they appreciated the ‘normality’ of my class,” said Heisler. “They felt engaged and by focusing intently on the class, they were able to forget, if just for a while, everything that was going on.”

Warshafsky mentioned that the past fall semester was his first semester teaching at the College. Even though he did not have anything to directly compare to when looking at how the fall semester went, he still thoroughly enjoyed it.

“I feel we had a lot of success with (the fall 2020 semester) and I really feel like I got to know a lot of students from (the) Concert Band last semester,” said Warshafsky. “I am very fortunate to have gotten to know them since they are such amazing people.”

Some students mentioned they learned something new about themselves while learning in the online format.

“I discovered that I am really good at managing group projects,” said McBride. “It is not something I ever thought I would be good at since I don’t like dealing with people, but somehow in an online format I am good at managing other people in a project.”

The students and professors appear to be hopeful for the start of the spring semester and are ready to adapt based on how the fall semester progressed.

“At the moment, I strongly prefer teaching online because of the virus — it is, in many ways, worse than ever,” said Heisler. “Of course in non-pandemic times, I strongly prefer teaching in-person, but extraordinary times call for flexibility and innovation from all of us.”

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