Marching bands, drama classes go virtual as arts programs start online learning

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With Albuquerque Public Schools staying online through the fall semester, art programs are taking a big hit. Now, the pandemic is forcing them to be more creative than ever, rethinking the way they teach.

“We work so much on interaction and collaboration. Everything’s group work, usually, and that’s challenging to do online,” said Dale Simpkins. “I think there’s definitely not much awareness of how much of an impact this has on arts.”

Simpkins is a drama teacher at Hoover Middle School. Since they can’t do traditional performances or plays, they’re coming up with new ways to create.

“We’re looking at monologues, we’re looking at radio theatre, things that absolutely still work well with online education,” said Simpkins. “It’s making us as arts teachers get really creative to make sure we’re still doing everything for our students that we can.”

Away from the band room and football field, marching students at Albuquerque High School are taking music classes to a new level. While apart, students are still making music from home.

“A lot of it is music rehearsals with one person unmuted, demoing, and then everyone else playing along,” said Elsie Stott, band director at Albuquerque High School. “We trouble-shot as a full group, all 62 of us, and we tried again this morning and it went 100-percent better.”

While playing all together virtually can be a challenge, Stott says one of the biggest hurdles music classes actually face is getting copyright licenses to send the music to students over the web. Stott says she worked for two months to get everything cleared.

“Asking what we could do to get the right licensing in place so that we could distribute music online and not have this gray area of copyright or this black area of copyright,” said Stott. “I was able to work out with an individual publisher the rights to distribute pdf copies of our music online.”

Neal Hickson is the manager of local music shop PianoWerkes. He says as more fine arts classes go online, parents are turning to ‘silent’ instruments that allow students to listen to what they’re playing through headphones, without disturbing those around them.

“That technology allows you to play on headphones, which of course, with families working and studying from the home, that’s been incredibly key,” said Hickson. “There’s no reason for children to stop at all and it’s actually become, in a lot of cases, more convenient to be able to do it from the home.”

Still, teachers say they’re hopeful their students can get their “creative juices” flowing from home. Local instructors say while the experience is challenging, teaching subjects that are more difficult to do from a distance, they believe students and teachers will come back to school, better than ever.

“Our fine arts community is alive,” said Stott. “We are strong, we are working and we are here for Albuquerque.” APS also just approved ‘smart music’ for the district. Students are able to play along to sheet music on screen with a virtual ensemble joining in.

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