Music department undergoes transformation to accommodate learning during COVID-19

Southeastern’s Department of Music and Performing Arts has made both academic and infrastructural changes in order to continue instruction in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative, Southeastern Louisiana University is part of the 21% of American universities with a hybrid teaching plan. This means that professors are given the ability to choose their class format — be that in-person or online — and reserve the right to change that format as the semester continues.

Dr. Jeff Wright, department head of Music and Performing Arts, explains that the way classes are conducted has changed, stating “all faculty are kind of running three classes for every class they teach.” He said they feel like they’re teaching a face-to-face class, an online class, and a hybrid class. Many in-person lectures have been moved to the Pottle Music Building auditorium, while performance courses have undergone extensive changes as well. 

For Southeastern’s Concert Choir, masks are required to stay on for the duration of rehearsals, and their ability to sing words has been limited to specific scenarios. Dr. Alissa Rowe, director of choral activities, said, when rehearsing in the choir room, she was only letting them hum. “They were not allowed to actually sing the text,” she said. When students are able to separate more than six feet, however, they are able to sing on words.

In large instrumental ensembles, Dr. Wright has described the use of specialized masks that allow for the musicians to access their mouthpieces via a flap. Additionally, there are devices used to reduce the amount of aerosols and droplets emitted from the instruments themselves. 

In order to keep the Pottle Music Building sanitary and open for learning, sanitation wipe dispensers and seating to enforce social distancing have been implemented into every classroom. For voice students, a new ventilation system has been put into the large choir room to counteract the spread of aerosols produced during singing. 

In addition, an online practice room sign-up system has been put in place. Before, students were allowed to enter practice rooms at the moment of their necessity, and now, they must register for a slot ahead of time. Vocal performance student Canaan White says the new sign-up system has introduced a lot more structure into how they do things. “I kind of want that to stay,” he said.

Dr. Rowe says that the expectations for her students have completely changed. “The expectation for me is that they are healthy, that they are mentally well,” she said. “They can do the projects and, whatever grade they get, it doesn’t really matter to me — just that, physically and mentally, they are healthy.” Dr. Wright says that though the department is making adjustments, the same level of excellence is expected.

Students like Ariel George, a fourth year vocal performance major, recognize these changes and appreciate what the department is doing for its students. She says, “There’s only so much you can do, but I appreciate everything they’re trying to do.” Dr. Rowe says, “The goal is to be together whenever possible. It isn’t about a final product; it isn’t about singing [a] perfect concert.”

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