Triad-area educators have spent the last few weeks adjusting to online teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For professors who teach performance-based classes, the transition has been particularly challenging.

Jared Redick, the Assistant Dean of Ballet at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, says though he still teaches from a studio on campus, his routine has changed quite a bit over the past six weeks. 

“I set up my laptop on the piano. I have an iPad where I stream the music from because it's adjustable speed so I can change the tempos of every combination and then I Zoom all the kids in,” he says. “And so, I stand at a bar in the studio and I demonstrate the combinations."

At first, it was difficult to even find a time to teach the class, with students spread out across many time zones. Then the students had to find a place in their homes with floors safe for dancing. Redick says that while they have adjusted well to the new set-up, he's still limited by the kinds of exercises he can teach.

“We can't move,” he says. “We can't do things that move horizontally across the floor. So, movement, which is not all of dance, but a big part of dance ... what we think of dance is kind of missing from that equation at the moment. And that's tough. So we try and do everything as vertically as we can.”

David Dash, an assistant professor of trumpet at UNCSA, has encountered similar hiccups. He's found ways to adjust the audio on Zoom calls so he can still tell how students are doing with things like timing and articulation. But he says, there's still something missing.

“Occasionally I like to walk around the student to really see what's happening from all angles,” he says. “And that's not really practical.”

Dash says he has discovered some benefits in this style of teaching. He's asking his students to record themselves more than ever before.

“Recording yourself is just one of the best ways to really find out what's happening when you're playing. It's kind of like looking in the mirror and really seeing what you look like. It's difficult to create and view yourself from the outside at the same time,” he says. “So recording yourself allows you to see yourself, really hear yourself afterwards.” 

Some of his students are taking those recordings and blending them together using audio editing software, creating a kind of virtual quintet. That's something that's also being done by vocal performers who are used to singing in groups, including students at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

UNCG assistant professor of voice Teri Bickham says it's called an asynchronous ensemble. She says she's seeing a lot of them on social media. 

“Which is pretty exciting as well, but it doesn't have the same togetherness factor,” she says. “But at least it fosters some enjoyment of that. And looking forward to the next time we actually get to get together and we'll certainly never take it for granted again.”

Bickham says her vocal classes are now a lot less interactive, due in part to the time delay in Zoom calls. Her students are spending more time singing acapella for the same reason, which she says is a big plus. But she's worried about how her students are dealing with this onslaught of change.

“I think as musicians, we also really depend upon the social aspect of creating music and being creative in general,” she says. “So it's been varied and every week is a little different. Some weeks I am very concerned for their energy and abilities and motivation. And then other weeks I see a big turnaround.” 

UNCSA senior dance student Erick Bateman says it's been a tough transition for him. He was used to dancing with other students from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. almost every day. 

“So, not being in a studio and being in my living room was very different. All of our motivation has kind of tanked a little bit, especially this being senior year,” he says. “It feels very bittersweet to not have all of us together collectively to close out our time here.”

Several students have filed lawsuits against the UNC system, claiming they are entitled to refunds because they paid for in-person classes. They argue the quality of instruction they've received online isn't comparable to what they would have gotten on campus. Some schools have already issued refunds, but it's adding up. The pandemic has put many area universities on shaky financial ground, leading to budget cuts and layoffs.

UNCSA professor Jared Redick says he and his colleagues are worried about how this will all play out in the coming months.

“As far as delivery of classes, we could continue doing this again, though it's not the ideal circumstance,” he says. “And I think we are all just waiting to find out how do we move forward from here, what are the mandates, what are the guidelines that we're giving, especially when we roll into fall of next year?”

The president of the UNC system recently said he expects to reopen all 17 campuses this fall with some new limitations and requirements unless the state's health situation deteriorates. He has not specified exactly how classes may be modified to comply with social-distancing rules. 

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you're experiencing.

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