Virtual Ensembles: Not a replacement but rather a re-placement

What a semester for teachers in general and ensemble teachers specifically! While countless things have changed for ensemble teachers this year, our main charge has remained: Providing students with pathways to musical meaning-making.

No, virtual ensembles are decidedly *not* the same as in-person ensembles. But I find the view that they cannot be educational/meaningful to be narrow. Yes, just as some approaches to in-person rehearsals and performances can be lacking in educational value so too can virtual ensembles. But with planning they can also be filled with student-centered decision making, productive collaboration, and musical meaning-making. 

Doing what we can, when we can, with the resources we have is the goal during this pandemic. I know that my music teaching friends have been staying true to their ideals and have found a variety of ways for students to have valuable musical experiences. Whatever *your* approach may have been, know that if your students found it meaningful it was the right one! For our music department, virtual ensembles were worth a try and I couldn’t be happier that we made the effort.

Here is my Wind Ensemble at St. Charles North High School performing “Holiday Piece” by David Foster, arranged by Jay Dawson. This “re-placement” of what an ensemble can be during a pandemic has served as a wonderful collaborative project as well as a “digital keepsake” for families and the community. Audio tracks were recorded in student-led groups (broadly by section) using Soundtrap over a period of about two weeks. The students made decisions about articulation, style, tuning etc. as revisions were made. Individual tracks were then exported and brought into Logic Pro X. Videos were uploaded into a Google Classroom assignment and then imported into Final Cut Pro X accompanied by the soundtrack from Logic Pro.

Our entire department participated in creating a virtual holiday concert (Constellation 2020) which you can view here: