Senior musicians on using quarantine as a growing experience
As the first semester of fully COVID-adapted courses is slowly reaching a merciful finish, most students are daydreaming past the spring semester to a hopeful return to normalcy in the fall of 2021. Unfortunately for this year’s seniors, the hamstrung Wash. U. experience of the last nine months will likely continue until their graduation. For seniors studying music, the likelihood of showcasing their final works and performing for a live audience is small. Nearly every class in the music department, from theory to vocal lessons, has been moved online, and ensembles such as jazz band and a cappella have been unable to meet in-person this semester in accordance with University guidelines.
Interim Chair of Music Alexander Stefaniak says that while the department’s intellectual rigor has remained, the learning experience has shifted, as students have replaced live performances with recorded projects. “Because ensembles can’t meet as large groups in person, they’ve been using the semester to develop skills and knowledge that they can put into practice when we all return to in-person rehearsals,” Stefaniak said in an email. Even with valiant efforts from professors to give students the same opportunities to showcase their work, COVID requires taking precautions that simply are not conducive to live performance.
The experience for music students is changing in other ways as well. “I have noticed that adapting my teaching has really pushed me to think carefully about what I consider essential in my courses: what my core objectives are, and how I can reach those in new ways,” Stefaniak said. To that end, music professors have started using streaming and social media to sustain their performance-driven instruction. But without conservatories—or even classrooms—to fill, musicians, especially those in their final year, have worked to find new channels for expression.
These musicians have been left to create on their own and find new outlets into which they can channel their passion. Senior Mitch Frauenheim has taken to Zoom performances with his fellow “bubble-mates” in order to savor his time with friends. Like many others in his position, he has jumped at any opportunity he can find to play as a group in his final year. “We play on our porch on Tuesdays,” he said. “There’s a couple of horns guys that we know, and we Zoom it out and we have great turnout.”
Going forward, Frauenheim wants to find an opportunity to combine his computer science abilities with a musical flair. “I think it’d be cool to find some kind of company that is involved in music,” he said. “I would still like to have that as part of what I’m working for.” For the time being, though, Frauenheim is simply looking to enjoy playing in any capacity.
For Aalisha Jaisinghani, a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree, the time away from her rigorous on-campus routine allowed her to rethink her relationship with music and her future studies. As has become a subtle yet pervasive theme of quarantine, Jaisinghani has narrowed in on her priorities, realizing her true calling may not be at the piano, as she originally thought, but rather producing her own original content.
“If things hadn’t gotten canceled, I would have never released my own music, which I finally started doing after all my performances just stopped,” she said. “The fact that quarantine happened and everyone’s on their phones means getting content out there is easier than it’s ever been.”
Jaisinghani substituted performing in conservatory recitals for creating videos of her own music on TikTok, which she says was a welcome surprise in effectively pushing her content out. As she continues to create her own music and applies to graduate school for music, her focus has shifted to curating her own film scores, though performing on the piano remains a passion. “I want my name on something,” she said. “I want a theme to play and everyone knows what it is even if they haven’t seen the movie.”
With time on her own and decisions looming, Jaisinghani says quarantine broadened her ambitions at just the right moment. While they may not be in front of a filled auditorium, these two seniors and many others have managed to keep the performance going as they zoom towards the graduation stage.