Bienen professors, students navigate classes online


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, home to the Bienen School of Music. Students reflect on their winter quarter and on showcasing their achievements through recitals.

Anushuya Thapa, Reporter

On Sept. 22, Bienen Prof. Steve Cohen taught his first in-person class of the quarter. The following weekend, one of his students called him to tell Cohen they had been in contact with someone who tested positive.

Though the student later tested negative, the “scare with COVID” made Cohen rethink the risks he was willing to take while teaching his students. Like Cohen, students and professors in the Bienen School of Music have been adapting to hybrid and remote classes this quarter.

Cohen’s in-person class was held in Lutkin Hall which accommodates 10 to 15 students with social distancing.

“The entire studio could be there, theoretically,” Cohen said. “I’m not quite sure how I feel about that now. ”

Bienen Prof. Yasuko Oura, who teaches collaborative piano, has also incorporated a hybrid model for her classes.

Her class consists of seven students, three of which are entirely remote.The other four meet in two-person groups in a large hall where they can adopt social distancing measures. They no longer sing in classes, Oura said, and she wipes down the keyboards before class begins.

“(As) an applied music instructor, I do need to interact with students and I do need a piano, and we collaborate on top of that,” Oura said. “There’s some singing, some playing, some coordination, all of that. I just find that it’s easier to do in person.”

Despite limited contact with her students, Oura said she was grateful to be able to do a part of her course in person. The nuances involved in playing the keyboard are more easily demonstrated in a live environment, Oura said.

Cohen, who teaches the clarinet, said that his instrument was especially difficult to listen to and teach virtually.

“If it goes from loud to soft, the soft disappears completely. Sometimes it fades out,” Cohen said. “The subtleties of what we’re trying to do in training people for professional life in music are not really there, so it’s very frustrating.”

Cohen said he is allowed to meet with each student individually up to four times this quarter. He said he has been trying to utilize these meetings and, when he can, avoid online instruction to get past the pitfalls of Zoom.

Bienen sophomore Brian Vogel, however, said the performance courses he is taking over Zoom are easier than his other online classes because they allow for better concentration. He said he is more easily distracted in a class with a great amount of students than in his one-on-one lessons with Bienen instructors.

Sometimes, internet connections will be unstable and Zoom will cut out the audio, Vogel said. However, he said this was not as challenging as he initially thought it would be.

“If you have a Zoom issue, you can just go back and play it again because it’s not a performance setting. It’s a teaching setting and a practice setting,” Vogel said.

Bienen students who take private lessons are typically required to be in an ensemble. In Spring Quarter, this requirement was waived entirely. This quarter, however, the University has modified ensembles to meet social distancing requirements.

The official Bienen website states that students will be instructed in smaller groups such as quintets or octets through a mix of in-person and online meetings. In addition, a fully remote alternative for the ensemble credit will be provided for students.

For Vogel, in-person classes are the “least of what (he)’s losing” with remote learning. Instead, Vogel said he misses the guest lectures, master classes, ensembles and other performances which he was only able to attend in person.

“I’m doing okay with playing my bassoon into a webcam every week,” Vogel said. ”The stuff I really miss is all of the great extra stuff that was an incentive to come to Northwestern and to come to (Bienen).”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AnushuyaThapa

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