The Virtual Performance Is Here to Stay
Process over Performance
By NAfME Member Nicole Guimaraes
The original article first appeared on Nicole Guimaraes’s blog.
Virtual Performances—they have become commonplace in the age of online music teaching and the coronavirus. Our students put on their headphones, play or sing along with a recording, and then through the magic of editing, they are all able to perform together. While it’s not, in any way, the same as a live concert, it makes for a meaningful project, rewarding in its own way. And while I look forward to the day that we can return back to normal and resume the classic band concert or school musical, I assert that we shouldn’t turn our backs on the virtual performance and should continue including it in our teaching practice.
A little about me—I teach kindergarten through second-grade general music at a public school in Virginia. I took on a project in the fall to create a music video of my 2nd graders performing a choreographed dance to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.” Despite being a Final Cut Pro newbie, I was able to finagle the footage into something really special for our students. It was just a dance performance though—Rachel Platten accompanied us as we performed.
That’s when singer Laura Kaye contacted me. Laura Kaye is one of the choreographers of the dance we used. She has become a great friend over the years, and I was very fortunate to work with her in person right before the world shut down. She said, “Your kids are amazing. Let’s do another video!”
While my teaching philosophy has always been to say “yes” to opportunities for my students and figure out the logistics later, I must admit, I was unsure that my 7- and 8-year-old students were up to the task of recording a professional-level video. She said, “Let’s use the song, ‘The Champion’! And we will include your kids’ voices in the final project!”
What Was I Thinking?
So we spent a lot of time learning the words of “The Champion.” We listened to them. We read them. We spoke them. We sang them. We danced to them. And eventually, my students learned them.
Step one—complete. But now I have to get two recordings from them, following very specific guidelines. I typed the instructions step-by-step. I shared them with their grown-ups. I recorded “How-To” videos sharing the precise method they should use. I talked them through it in class. They asked questions. I answered.
Now, the moment of truth.
I panicked a bit when the first of many submissions I received had to be “sent back.” They weren’t following the instructions—they forgot the synchronizing claps at the beginning, didn’t record with headphones on, stood too close to the camera so we couldn’t see their head in the video—the list went on and on.
But then, something amazing happened. The first student I clicked “send back” to, re-did his recording. Then the second, and the third. I reminded them to think of this as a rough draft. When we write, we revise our work multiple times before submitting the final copy. The only difference here is that we are recording, rather than writing. Some students had to make two, three, four, even FIVE recordings to get it right. That didn’t stop them. Every time they reflected, made a change, and resubmitted, until I told them it was right on. It has become an unexpected lesson in perseverance.
Some of my students were worried about learning the words—and they admittedly approximated many of the phrases in the verses—but you better believe they belted out the chorus like it was nobody’s business. Some of them were shy about being on video but decided to go ahead and give it a try anyway. Some of them got dressed up, built a stage, added their own flair. I even got this heartwarming email from a parent about her son, “He was practicing and trying to teach the song to his ‘Care Bear’ stuffed animal last night in bed.” What more could I ask for?
Not all of their videos are of the greatest quality, and I am ok with that. So much so, that I even told the editor, “I am less concerned with the look of the video and more concerned that every student is shown throughout. They all worked so hard and took the time to record, so I want them to be seen, even if their video quality isn’t great.” While this project was about getting a really great final product, the process was so much more important.
“While this project was about getting a really great final product, the process was so much more important.”
In the end, I received 80 submissions, which is half of my 2nd-grade students. Not bad! In essence, 80 of my students went to the “studio.” In fact, one student wrote in her reflection, “My dad helped me set up this stage, and it literally looked like a studio!”
What about the other half of my students, though? Was my lesson ineffective since half didn’t even take the time to record? To that, I say “Absolutely not.” While the goal of this project was to create a grade-level music video, that is just a small part of the process. I received a handful of emails, similar to this, from my 2nd-grade parents. “I tried to encourage her to make a video and audio recording for ‘The Champion’ over the past couple of weeks, but it seems that she’s feeling a bit self-conscious, so we decided not to force it. I’m so sorry we weren’t able to contribute to the final video. She has been practicing the song and singing it around the house, so I know that she learned a lot and enjoyed the lesson.”
This email sums it up perfectly. This student learned the ins and outs of the song. She learned the dance moves. She practiced with us. She supported her classmates who did record. While she didn’t end up submitting a recording, she learned about the process. She is one of many students who fall into this category.
And what about the others?
Well, my kiddos have been doing virtual school for nearly a year. They have been on video every single day. They have to record themselves for assignments and constantly look at how they look on screen. Perhaps they chose not to record a video because they simply didn’t want to be on camera again. I can hardly blame them.
The Benefits of a Virtual Performance
So now, back to my original thought. This project is specific to our times. The only reason I took it on is that it’s realistically the only way my students are going to “perform” this year. However, it’s a project I plan to continue post-COVID. Let’s look at the benefits:
- Learning a song in its entirety. I know we do this in performance, but being recording-ready for a song is different than standing on a stage with 100 of your classmates and being able to rely on them if you forget a word here and there.
- Hearing YOUR voice (or instrument). When we record audio, it is just your voice, exposed, for everyone to hear. How else can students really hear themselves for how they sound?
- Learning through approximation. When we learn to speak, we begin by approximating. Music acquisition should be no different. Rather than stopping my students every time they mixed up a word or a rhythm, I let them go. As a result, they were fearless. There is a very challenging rap section in the middle of the song we recorded. While that part was optional, nearly every student attempted it in some way. They mixed up words, mumbled through other parts, and nailed certain lines. It was beautiful and exactly how music-making should be. After all, it’s the editor’s job to put us together and make us sound good!
- In a live performance, you get one shot. In a recording, you get as many takes as it takes. Many of our students are going to send in audition tapes for music schools or festivals. They are going to have to record themselves giving personal statements. The more experience they get, the more comfortable they are going to be with this process.
- Learning the process. I got to share the entire process with my 2nd-grade students. I shared how the video editor is going to put all of their audio files together and the dance videos as one. I explained how the clap tracks at the beginning will allow the editor to line up the files easily. They have been exposed to so many facets of the music industry that they otherwise would not have been.
- A final product that lasts. Sure, we record our band and choir concerts, but this is in no way the same as a music video. Let’s give our students something tangible to save from music class. They save their artwork, writing samples, posters, and projects—why not give them something to keep from music that will last them a lifetime?
Now, I am in no way advocating that our music videos and recordings replace live performance. However, I don’t think we should forget the value that our virtual performances have. Maybe a virtual recording takes the place of a piece during a choir concert. Students can talk about and share the process. Older, high school students, can even edit the video.
I know that many of us probably want to forget about most things related to these challenging times—but let’s not cast everything aside for good. After all, there have been some really incredible moments.
As I scroll through 80 files of my 7- and 8-year-old students with their headphones on, performing in their home studios, I am reminded of just how meaningful this project turned out to be. There is no doubt that our 2nd-grade music video project is here to stay.
About the author:
She has been the recipient of several grants, including a 2019 Georgia Music Foundation Grant, hosting a program called, “Electrify Your Choir” with Emmy-nominated singer Laura Kaye and choreographer Nathan Blake. In 2018, Nicole was named as a Fund for Teachers Fellow. This fellowship allowed her to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, where she collaborated with the Art of Music Foundation. Nicole is an avid proponent of the modern band movement and uses the Little Kids Rock curriculum in her music classes.
She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and Tuba Performance from the Ithaca College School of Music. She earned a Master’s degree in Tuba Performance from the Lynn University Conservatory of Music.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
March 2, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)