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Teachers finding the rhythm with remote music education

  • Dunbarton resident Geoff Moody in his music production studio at his home on Friday. Moody started Push the Sound to help facilitate online music education. The program is being used in various ways by some local school districts. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/6/2020 4:16:13 PM

For public school districts offering remote learning this month, music education poses a unique challenge. Experiential learning with instruments is hard when students and teachers aren’t face-to-face, and ensemble classes like band and choir are difficult to recreate online.

Local music teachers are having to get creative, using technology and experimenting with online courses to provide instruction to the remote students.

“I feel like music teachers have to reinvent the entire wheel right now,” said Brin Cowette, choral teacher at Concord High School. “We are going back to the basics: creating, performing, responding and connecting through music. We are using those to create a new curriculum.”

One thing helping music departments in both Concord and Bow this year will be an online music production course created by a new local company called Push the Sound Music Academy.

Push the Sound was started in April by Dunbarton resident Geoff Moody, an SAU67 parent and school board member who has worked in both education and music production. He said he has had the idea for a while to make an online course that would make music more accessible to students, but when remote learning began in the spring he realized it would be especially valuable.

“I started to get a little epiphany as we got into the summer, how important a program like this could be to a school who doesn’t know what to do with music curriculum in a world where we aren’t sure if we will be in school one week or the next,” Moody said. “It became more urgent to make sure it was done and ready to roll this year.”

The online course, which is the length of one school semester, consists of online coursework and pre-recorded video lessons done by musicians from as far away as England and Belgium. The first three weeks are a background overview of different music styles, then the students can choose to focus on rhythm or melody, and later on music production or composition. All the coursework is browser-based, meaning there is no need for extra technology.

“They don’t need a mini keyboard, they don’t need any other instrumentation, they just need a keyboard on their computer, a browser and maybe a pair of headphones and they can make music,” Moody said.

Some homeschool families have also been signing up for Moody’s course, which is intended to be accessible to students regardless of whether they have a background in an instrument or music theory. For those signing up independently of a school, the course is $325.

“Being able to add that to your curriculum is really cool because you can reach kids who aren’t interested in traditional music programs, but they want to build beats for example,” Moody said. “It’s different.”

Different schools are implementing the music production course in different ways. At Concord High School, Cowette is using pieces of it, including the sequence and a lot of the material, and teaching it in her own style. At Bow Memorial School, which is reopening with a hybrid learning model, Moody said portions of the course are being used to teach students who choose to learn remotely. At Bow High School the course is being used mostly in its entirety.

Moody is trying to get other schools interested in the course, and plans to work with schools to let them run the program even if it isn’t in their budget.

Besides implementing the music production course, Cowette is also working to adapt other music classes to an online format, too.

For the ensemble choir class, Cowette plans to teach students in small groups over video call. Cowette will play the piano and sing, while the students mute themselves and sing along. (It’s hard to sing in unison without muting, because of lag caused by network latency.)

Instead of concerts, Cowette will make virtual performances, using software to edit together recordings of students singing individually.

“In general, music teachers have always had to use creativity to make our classes work,” Cowette said. “We are all just trying to do that in new ways right now.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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