In New Course, Rensselaer Reimagines Music Education for the COVID-19 Era

August 6, 2020

In New Course, Rensselaer Reimagines Music Education for the COVID-19 Era

Hybrid class allows musicians to collaborate through in-person and remote instruction

A new course available in the upcoming semester at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will meet the current moment by equipping students on campus and off with novel strategies for pursuing and practicing music performance in an era of social distancing and remote learning.

With the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating certain public health guidelines, and the Rensselaer return-to-campus plan calling for some students to remain off campus in the fall, proceeding with the traditional music ensemble courses in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) was not a feasible option.

Led by Christopher Fisher-Lochhead, a lecturer in HASS, the new Fusion Ensemble course combines the Orchestra, Concert Choir, and Chamber Music Ensembles into one class, melding the different practices together to discover provocative affinities that might not have been uncovered in the separate classes. The course will be taught using inventive technical and pedagogical methods that will allow students to participate in person, remotely, during a set class time, or asynchronously.

“Since we’re forced to reconceive performance and collaboration because of the pandemic,” Fisher-Lochhead said, “it’s important to find ways we can reimagine music that aren’t just reactions to the challenges of today, but are also enduring responses to this age of technological mediation and social unrest and everything that defines our current moment. This is exactly what music performance should do in a technological setting like Rensselaer.”

The ensemble will have a flexible, modular format that will allow students to participate in large-group performances and to pursue their own musical interests in smaller sub-groups.

The rehearsal process will adapt to accommodate the demands of remote instruction and social distancing through small-group, real-time coaching and large-group meetings to rehearse. Additionally, students will receive one-on-one instruction so that the repertoire can be responsive to students’ unique interests and learning situations.

Live performance will be reimagined to include asynchronous individually tracked recordings, remotely implemented real-time performances, and socially distanced or multi-spatial live performances.

“Courses like Fusion Ensemble are innovative examples of how faculty and students at Rensselaer embrace the challenge of this moment,” said Mary Simoni, dean of the School of HASS. “When faced with obstacles, musicians find clever, creative, and resourceful solutions that give rise to new modes of artistic communication.”

Through its use of technology and ingenuity to provide students with a unique and robust educational experience, the new course exemplifies the philosophy behind the New Polytechnic, the model that drives teaching and research at Rensselaer.

In addition to offering the possibilities for musical growth and experimentation, Fusion Ensemble will also unite students and foster the social bonds of being part of a musical community at a world-class technological institution.

“The student musicians at Rensselaer have been musicians for years and they’re very talented,” Fisher-Lochhead said. “It’s part of their identity and a big part of their social interaction. To have that disappear would be a tragic loss for our students. In addition to reimagining musical performance, Fusion Ensemble will also preserve the social cohesiveness and sense of common purpose impassioned by musical collaboration.”


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