The Concord Academy’s performing arts department has been working tirelessly to improve students’ experience of dealing with performing arts virtually, re-designing their classes in creative ways to ensure the quality of students’ learning experience.

“Performing arts are one of the most challenging disciplines regarding this format partly just because of the nature of these classes in person”.

Amy Spencer, the performing arts department head and a dance teacher at CA

Ensuring everyone has an instrument at home and appropriate space to sing or play comfortably is the overarching issue to be solved. Many students, especially boarders, had left their instruments in the music rooms before spring break and were unable to participate in rehearsals or Individual Music Instruction (IMI) courses. After guaranteeing everybody had access to their instruments, the next problem that needed to be addressed was the acoustics. Due to some students’ unstable internet connection and imperfect recording devices at home, there were delays and flaws in sound when music groups meet online synchronously and record their music. In response to this issue, James Williston, the technical director at CA, shipped professional microphones to students taking music courses in the U.S. and overseas. 

Once every student received their instruments and microphones, they began to participate in their classes creatively. As an Advanced Jazz Ensemble member, I have already attended several rehearsals. In the first twenty minutes of our rehearsal, all the wind players gathered up, and Chris Gagne, the director of jazz ensembles, instructed us for some breathing exercises. The rhythm section joined in the rehearsal later, and the ensemble as a whole listened to the piece we are working on recently and learned the history of jazz music. 

When practicing outside of school, students in Advanced Jazz Ensemble and Vocal Jazz & Pop Ensemble incorporate “Soundtrap”—an online platform invented for recording and digital music production. This platform was already implemented by Chris into the recording process of these two ensembles during last spring, and it had become an indispensable tool for jazz ensembles to merge their music distantly. 

Furthermore, the theater department has been experimenting with ways to present Main Stage performances. The theater crew for Main Stage performances is working with designers, and seeking ways to deliver props and costumes to the student cast. In addition, theater faculty members are communicating with the film department to initiate collaboration with video editors, as virtual theater performances require lots of video editing. Despite the obstacles confronted by the theater department, Main Stages this year still has some advantages. Since plays will always be available online, a larger portion of the CA community, such as parents and alumni, can watch the plays. 

The performing arts department has dedicated much effort to refining its teaching mechanism, allowing students to access quality education even during distance learning. When asked about the difficulties, Spencer replied, “That’s what the arts are. You’re always solving problems. It’s painful to make changes, but changes are, sometimes, the very things that find new inventions.” Students have started preparing for Works in Progress for the family weekend, and a cappella group on campus has already recorded their performance videos. There is much to look forward to in this year’s performing arts productions.