Fall 2020, objectively, has created unique scenarios that have challenged and surprised everyone across the Wellesley community. Despite the challenges, students have come together to recreate familiar experiences. For students involved in music performance on campus, this rings especially true; as lessons switched to virtual and concerts moved to video recordings, everyone has learned new skills and translated their talents to the ever-changing modern landscape.
In a typical semester, students enrolled in private lessons would schedule a time to regularly meet with instructors in Jewett Arts Center. Instructors then help students with their work for any of Wellesley’s various performance ensembles, while also preparing additional pieces. Right before finals, students listen to their peers’ work, while instructors and music department faculty assess; these “juries” are fairly informal, with added evaluations for those in 300-level lessons. For students, juries and performance ensemble concerts are a central part of end-of-semester traditions and a big aspect of their social and academic experience at Wellesley.
Fall 2020, given the continued pandemic, brought sweeping changes to this familiar practice. The only students allowed to use Jewett’s practice rooms were those who could rehearse while maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols — mainly string, piano and percussion players, who could wear masks while playing. All other music students, both on campus and off, had to practice in their rooms, creating various social and technological complications. Not only did we now have to be cognizant of the fact our neighbors could hear us practice, but we had to find microphone setups, schedule Zoom meetings with our instructors and, for some, learn for the first time how to record music. It added unforeseen complexities to the already mildly nerve-wracking process of music performance.
The music department loaned microphones (and gave tips for how to use them) to students both on and off-campus to ensure everyone had access to quality audio recording, and I worked closely with my instructor to figure out software like Audacity for my recordings. One thing that proved problematic was the audio lag that accompanies any online meeting; playing synchronously an audio track or with an instructor, for example, was nearly impossible because of delays. Students spent a lot of time-shifting the timing on tracks after recording to account for recording lag, and even more, hours sending Audacity files back and forth with instructors so they could listen to them in real-time and adjust.
I have been enrolled in jazz trombone lessons since my first semester at Wellesley, and despite the changes, things have felt similar to before. As part of the Wellesley BlueJazz Big Band, a majority of my first term was spent working through difficult parts of charts and fine-tuning my recordings. When these were finished, I sent them to a shared Google Drive where they were compiled with others’ clips to make the closest equivalent to a concert we could manage this semester: a collaborative recording.
However, with the semester winding down, I have taken more time outside of my hour-long weekly lessons to work on pieces for Big Band. Instead, I have worked closely with my instructor in preparation for juries this weekend. Within a folder on my desktop is three PDFs. The end result is a two and a half minute song: three separate trombone tracks all recorded and layered together with pre-recorded background percussion.
It is a vast departure from the usual plan, wherein students play, of course, one part over an accompaniment, but the process was equally rewarding. Getting to see hours of work compiled into a cohesive, single song becomes a tangible testament to the weirdness of the year we have experienced. Though nothing compares to the thrill of performing live, these audio clips are a summation of the musical and technical talents of Wellesley’s student body, something we can all be inspired by.