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Performance Arts Embraces Technology in the Virtual Classroom

Valley Echo Banner Devyn DiPasquale'21
26 January 2020

The following is the third in a series of Valley Echo articles spotlighting how various elective courses are handling the transition to the virtual classroom. Stay tuned to the Valley Echo for future articles in the series. You can read about how Classical and Contemporary Art Classes have adjusted by visiting the links above.

Performance Arts teachers have found new, creative ways to teach material and keep students engaged during the virtual and hybrid models of instruction. Due to the importance of in-person instruction in these courses, they have tackled issues with live performance through a screen and have learned how to fully embrace technology.Screenshot of the Winter Concert broadcast available on PV's Vimeo page

Learning in-person is vital to Performance Art courses, so the teachers have had to overcome many challenges inherent to virtual learning. “The biggest challenge is the interaction between teacher and student. It's just not there when you are teaching through a screen,” said Mr. Michael DeLuccia, who teaches Concert Band, Concert Band Honors, Rock of Ages, and Music Explorations. “I have tried to have the Concert Band students all play at the same time like we would in the physical room while we were on Google Meet, but the lag doesn't allow it to time out properly. It makes it very frustrating.”

Despite clear disadvantages of online learning, some aspects of Performing Arts have actually benefited from being virtual. “Being that the pandemic has made us have to do most things virtually, it has allowed the students to learn skills in a world that technology is nudging us toward anyway,” said Ms. Caren Atamian, who teaches Public Speaking, Introduction to Theater, Stage Acting, and Advanced Performance Art Honors. “Especially now that people are working from home, theater auditions are taking place online, and interviews for jobs and colleges are occurring virtually, the kids need to understand exactly how the technology works. So there are skills that I would touch on during in-person learning, but now that we have had to transition into virtual learning, the students have an opportunity to hone these skills better than they would if we were in-person.”

Screenshot from the Winter Concert broadcast available on PV's Vimeo page Virtual learning has taught teachers and students how to truly embrace technology and use it to their advantage. “I believe that students have acquired valuable skills that they maybe wouldn't have learned otherwise,” said Ms. Pia Vanderstreet, who teaches Concert Choir, Fundamentals of Piano Keyboard, Intro to Classical Guitar, and ABA Music. “For example, choir students have had to learn about producing sound and video recordings and have had to utilize technology more. I do believe this will be useful down the line both in college and potentially their careers.”

Teaching virtually has also allowed teachers to find new ways to keep students engaged. “For Concert Band, I am using a program called Smartmusic. Smartmusic is very cool, because it gives the students access to the music we are preparing through a web-based program," said Mr. DeLuccia. "The students can play their part with a full band backing track and the program can then tell them if they made any mistakes. It has truly been a lifesaver."

Online learning has also allowed teachers to uncover techniques they are looking to incorporate into their in-person classroom when those resume. “Technology is pushing us forward; virtual learning has allowed me to focus on teaching the students how to conduct themselves online," said Ms. Atamian. "I am able to train the kids how to do things like interview online, and I am definitely going to be doing a lot more of that when we go back in-person. With theater, I will also incorporate how to audition online into my normal lessons."

Regardless of the clever ways Performance Arts teachers have been able to navigate our all virtual world, there is still no true replacement for being in-person. “The sense of live performance is such a visceral one when you’re actually in the same space with other people,” said Ms. Atamian. “What I really miss the most is being with my students. We need close proximity and to be together as a group in order to get the same experience. Obviously this is impossible during this time as even when we are in-person we have to take social distancing into consideration. So I really miss that feeling of comradery with my students and the strength of physically being with others, which is such a vital part of Performing Arts.”

Ms. Vanderstreet echoes Ms. Atamian’s feelings on this subject. “There is nothing quite like the feeling of creating something beautiful and to be able to share the things you love with like minded individuals. I know we will come back stronger than ever, and that making music and art will be even more special and cherished because of what we've been through.”

Pictures contained within this article are screenshots from the Winter Concert. The video of the concert is available on Passaic Valley's Vimeo channel.