UT-Austin music students learn how to adapt during coronavirus

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Photo Credit: Barbra Daly | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

After a month of online classes, Butler School of Music students are struggling with the one thing they came to do: make music.

When all in-person classes and the school’s public events were canceled in March, Butler students and faculty were unsure of what the rest of their semester would look like.

Music studies sophomore Alexis Ward said her greatest challenge was losing the routine that came with rehearsing with an ensemble.

“There’s no recitals, concerts, festivals or auditions coming up to prepare for,” Ward said. “It’s hard to find inspiration to want to get better (because) there’s no guarantee that we’ll have anything in the near future to apply it to.”

For some students, the struggle didn’t end at not being able to rehearse. While the school allows students to check out instruments to use for the semester, many students who play larger instruments, such as pianos and percussion, rely on instruments within the school that aren’t available for checkout.

Joseph Zamora, a piano performance graduate student, said he does not have his own piano at home, which means he now practices on an electric keyboard. 

“It has changed the way I’m developing as a musician,” Zamora said. “It has just been really difficult. My progress has been a little stunted.”

Zamora said he had a keyboard previously, but when he started using it after UT moved to online classes, he discovered it was broken. UT paid for it to be fixed.

Alongside students, professors and instructors have also struggled to adapt to the new format. In addition to adjusting their class syllabi, many faculty members scrambled to provide resources for students to make the transition easier.

Joshua Straub, interim lecturer of group piano pedagogy, said he was excited when the University provided the funding necessary to purchase and ship keyboards to around 20 of his students. 

“I felt like checking even one box was a win during COVID-19,” Straub said. “My students needed keyboards. Otherwise, what is the purpose of my class?”

Straub said students are submitting assignments via video, and he is allocating time for individual appointments to give students feedback. Straub said he is trying to be cognizant of what this disruption means for his students and teach them about more than just music.

“I want to have (this class) be meaningful to them,” Straub said. “The fabric of what it means to be an undergraduate student has been ripped from them. The last thing I want to do is create a curriculum that will make them feel more stressed.”

Tiffany Galus, assistant Longhorn Band director, said she knew from the beginning that she would never be able to recreate what her class was like in person.

“What makes what we do special is that it can’t be replicated,” Galus said. “Conducting is only motion if you have other people. Otherwise, the art form doesn’t exist.”

Despite the changes that have been made, Galus said she has remained optimistic by using this time as an opportunity to learn new things.

“This has shone a spotlight on how important and sacred the (in-person) opportunities we have together are,” Galus said. “I look forward to the moment where we all get to be humans again.”