In August 2019 I interviewed Michelle Rose, a music teacher at North Carolina Virtual Academy. Michelle and I spoke about an innovative way she was connecting the music students in her cyber school – through virtual ensembles! At the time, this idea was pushing the envelope. Few music teachers could conceive of why virtual ensembles might be worth doing.
And then COVID-19 hit, and our lives as music teachers changed drastically!
As a “sneak peek” to our upcoming book, Pass the Baton: Empowering Students in the Music Room, we are excited to share with you this interview with Michelle Rose.
Encore: Virtual Ensembles with Michelle Rose
Michelle Rose is a music teacher at North Carolina Virtual Academy. In this virtual environment, Michelle’s students can participate in a variety of music classes, but she felt that one thing was missing. Her students could not connect with one another while making music. To remedy this situation, Michelle created a virtual band and a virtual chorus for her students. She has found the virtual ensembles to be successful when they incorporate two factors: students practice on their own using Smart Music and then attend live “rehearsals” using Zoom video.
All students must have a Smart Music subscription. Each week, students practice with Smart Music then submit a recording to Michelle. Prior to rehearsal she listens to all recordings and uses that information to determine what they will work on together. Students connect during rehearsal using Zoom video. Michelle gives instructions and conducts, and the students play their instruments or sing. By default, the student’s microphones are muted, so they can hear Michelle’s instructions, but cannot hear their classmates playing. This requires Michelle to pay close attention to visual cues – watching fingerings, breathing, and posture, to give appropriate feedback to the students. Every few weeks she combines the Smart Music recordings in Audacity to get an idea what the full ensemble sounds like.
Virtual ensembles also give virtual performances! Again using Audacity, Michelle combines the students’ final recordings into one product. This final recording of the choir’s performance was premiered at the school’s Virtual Art and Talent Show, and the band premiered a recording of “Pomp and Circumstance” for the school’s graduation ceremony! Students were very excited to be part of these special school events.
Michelle has found the rehearsals are the key to success – and student collaboration – for the virtual ensembles. Students will often join the Zoom rehearsal early to chat with each other and get to know the other members of the group. Throughout the rehearsal, Michelle can also un-mute students to encourage conversation and collaboration among the students.
While Michelle agrees that a virtual ensemble experience could never replace that of an in-person ensemble, she also feels strongly that this is an excellent solution when it’s not possible to be in the same room. Participating in the virtual ensembles has given her students a chance to be part of something and to feel connected to other students in the school. This is often difficult to achieve in a virtual school environment.
“You don’t have to be in the same physical location to get to know someone.”
Michelle’s advice to someone thinking about starting a virtual ensemble is to be open to making mistakes and learning alongside your students! There is definitely a learning curve involved with running a rehearsal in an empty room. She also recommends for the first rehearsal, having a slide displayed with visual instructions for students to check their microphones and speakers. Inevitably at least one student won’t be able to hear you, so this saves time in troubleshooting the settings that will need to be adjusted.
Connect with Michelle!
- Website: www.themusicalrose.com
- Instagram: @the_musical_rose
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