Orchestra classes thrive despite challenges of remote learning



Although Concert Orchestra, Orchestra and Advanced Chamber Orchestra are all fully remote, the teachers and students create a positive environment for all to participate and thrive.

Learning about famous composers and compositions, collaborating in groups and getting individualized support: another successful day completed for remote Orchestra.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Concert Orchestra, Orchestra and Advanced Chamber Orchestra are all fully remote. This change came after the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released a new set of safety guidelines for all performing arts classes. The performing arts department recommended that all performing art classes take place as remotely as possible because playing some instruments such as brass and woodwinds increases the number of aerosol particles spread into the air.

Despite all the changes integrated into the orchestra this year, conductor Nina Bishop and her students have still successfully built community and put on performances.

The remote format allows more time for students to study topics that they are passionate about. Bishop said she listens to her students’ input about what they want to learn.

“I have been sending students surveys to see what they want to focus on this year. One thing I heard from students is that they want to be sure they can learn about things like musicianship, reading music, sight music and music theory,” Bishop said.

Students also appreciate the time built into Orchestra for them to work in groups while in breakout rooms. In a typical class this year, students will join the call, tune in together, go into individual breakout rooms to practice and then go into group breakout rooms, whether it be to research a famous composer or perform for each other.

Freshman flutist Lila Kindall said the time she spends in breakout rooms with a group of her fellow musicians is one of her favorite parts of the class.

“I think the group work is super fun. It allows us to meet other people from other grades and together we can talk about music or just chat and make friends. It is also fun when we play for each other and are able to hear feedback,” Kindall said.

Students also enjoy the large block of time Bishop sets aside each day for individual practice. She makes an effort to check in with as many students as possible and assist them when needed. According to Bishop, the ability to give attention to personal development and learning is one of the most positive aspects that emerged this year.

Sophomore and cellist Jojo Pearlman said there are specific benefits of the time set aside for individual practice.

“Last year, when I was in 9th grade, it was the whole orchestra and it was very rare to get individual help because there were so many people in one space,” Pearlman said. “I do not think I ever actually did, so it is really great that I am able to do it this year.”

The orchestras also received grants to help them share their music, which is especially helpful in challenging times like this for the department.

“A thing that is positive is we have actually gotten some grants, both from the Parent Teacher Organization and from the education foundation, to help us produce concert projects that will be released soon and into 2021,” Bishop said.

Bishop said she is proud of the orchestra’s hard work and adaptability during a challenging time.

“I am trying to look on the bright side because although there is no substitute for everyone being together in real time and space, I think safety is the most important consideration for our students,” Bishop said. “Within the framework we have, we are doing the best we can and are successful in many aspects.”