How to Make Music with Your Ensembles Even during COVID-19
By NAfME Member Michael Parsons
Director of Instrumental Music
Briarcrest Christian School
Not unlike countless other music educators around the world who are faced with the realities of COVID-19, I found myself trying to figure out how to still have meaningful engagement with my ensembles in a way that was creative and musically edifying for the students. I had just learned that our concerts had been canceled, trips that we had been looking forward to all year were being canceled, and, worst of all, my students would not have the opportunity to make music together for (potentially) the remainder of the school year. As I started to feel thwarted by this microscopic enemy (COVID-19), I stumbled upon a “virtual performance” of a band performing Holst’s Second Suite in F on YouTube. That’s when I decided not to let the virus keep my students from making music together.
I started by assigning remote “virtual performances” to my students. I had them each video their individual performances remotely by using a click track that I had created on my Mac. I used Pro Tools, but any DAW (digital audio workstation) can do this. The students uploaded their video files either to Google Drive or to a file sharing website called “wetransfer.” Once I received the links, I downloaded the video and loaded them all into iMovie. After several hours of very amateur video editing (I had never done anything like this before), I released our first “virtual performance” on YouTube.
The response was amazing! Not only was this a fun and meaningful way for the students to feel connected, but it helped bring our school community together. I started receiving emails and text messages from my colleagues asking “how we did it.” Here is our first video:
“Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish / Arranged and Performed by SoundScape
A few days after the release of this video, Dr. Albert Nguyen (Director of Bands at the University of Memphis) called me and wanted to collaborate with us on another virtual performance video. For this project, two of my students wanted to take over the technical aspects (audio mixing and video editing). This certainly made my job much easier, but more importantly, it gave my musicians another avenue of creative investment. Thanks to Dr. Nguyen’s advice, we were also more intentional with the way we filmed each shot. The students were given specific instructions on how to standardize their shots by shooting in “landscape” and by adjusting their video settings on their phones to all be at the same framerate. After we released this virtual performance, we decided to put together a video tutorial to help other music educators better understand how to create virtual performances for their own ensembles.
Virtual Performance Tutorial
Our video tutorial explains how we used free software to collaborate and includes a candid conversation with the two students who took on the audio and video aspects. Here is the final product including another video that features an original song that our students wrote together.
“Dance Night” by Lucky Chops / Performed by SoundScape
“Quicksand” Written, Recorded, and Performed by SoundScape
SoundScape is Briarcrest Christian School’s premier commercial music ensemble. Founded on jazz, rock, blues, and popular music rooted in the rich musical culture of Memphis, Tennessee, SoundScape is distinctly cutting edge in its content and approach and embraces the principal musical movements of our time. Integrating live performance and studio recording, SoundScape performs a variety of musical styles, utilizes relevant technologies, and exposes its members to college and professional opportunities open to today’s musician.
Read past articles by Michael Parsons:
- Commercial Music: A Paradigm Shift in Music Education (Part 1)
- Commercial Music: A Paradigm Shift in Music Education (Part 2)
About the author:
NAfME member Michael Parsons, serves as the Director of Instrumental Music at Briarcrest Christian School. He directs the Briarcrest Symphonic Band, the Briarcrest Marching Band, the High School Worship Band, Briarcrest’s commercial music ensembles, SoundScape and 76-South, and oversees all aspects of Briarcrest’s Instrumental Music Department.
Michael holds a Master of Music Degree in orchestral conducting along with a Bachelor of Music Degree in performance, both from The University of Memphis.
Michael is a nationally known clinician, guest speaker, and published author for various musical associations including the National Association for Music Education, the Tennessee Music Educators Association, the Kansas Music Association, the Illinois Music Association, the Kentucky Music Association, and the West Tennessee School Band and Orchestra Association (WTSBOA). In 2014, Michael was selected as one of “Memphis’ Finest Young Professionals” by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Memphis and VIP Magazine. Most recently, Michael was nominated for the 2017 and 2018 GRAMMY Music Educator AwardTM.
For more information, please contact Michael Parsons directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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