Friday, April 17, 2020
A brief note to Howard County parents who enjoy virtual choir postings on the internet:
Don’t ask our HCPSS teachers to make any.
These requests, pretty much nationwide and who knows how far beyond, are the bane of music teachers everywhere. Let me tell you why.
Rehearsing a musical ensemble in one location is an interactive learning event. Each musician is responsible not only for playing their part, but paying attention to the director, and playing with their fellow musicians. Musicality is not merely playing the notes on a page. It is a collaborative endeavor.
A live rehearsal is not possible using Zoom or other similar platforms. If you don’t believe me, trying singing Happy Birthday with your online group of choice. It does not sync up. As a musician I find this maddening. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try if you are having a purely social gathering. Singing is a deeply human way of communicating.
But a true musical rehearsal or concert coming from many individual locations in real time? Not happening.
What you are seeing when you press play on a virtual choir or instrumental recording is, to be blunt, a parlor trick. It involves a huge amount of post-production work by someone who is using technology to piece it all together and make it appear to be an ensemble. The musical benefit to each individual player is negligible.
It is as though a class full of students were given identical squares of paper to color on while separated from one another, and the teacher was responsible for organizing them in such a way that they appeared to be a great work of art. This is not a legitimate learning experience. It’s far more like color-by-number. There is no listening or responding, no interplay between musicians, no opportunity to improve one’s playing or singing by rising to the musical challenges provided by the conductor.
A virtual ensemble is largely smoke and mirrors: enjoyable for the audience but providing zero learning benefit for the participants. And it is an unbelievable amount of work for whoever does the tech to “assemble” the end result. There are a zillion other ways that music teachers can be interacting with their students right now that are more musical and more pedagogically sound than the production of virtual ensembles.
So, for Heaven’s sake, don’t ask our teachers to make one. They are doing everything they can to bring out the best in their student musicians under extraordinary circumstances and it’s just not going to look the same as an ensemble rehearsal or concert. A creative and educationally sound response is not going to be a virtual choir.
Yes, they are fun. They are cool. They are amazing, and it’s not wrong to enjoy them. If you want to see more of them, make sure you support music technology programs in the school system. Those music tech kids will go out in the world and create more fun, cool, and amazing tech-facilitated musical experiences.
Let your children's music teachers do what they do best: teach.