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Column | Meera Komarraju: SIUC School of Music’s response to the pandemic is inspiring, creative
Column | On Campus

Column | Meera Komarraju: SIUC School of Music’s response to the pandemic is inspiring, creative

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SIU School of Music
The SIU School of Music cello studio performs individually from home while also collaborating virtually on composite video collage. Pictured clockwise from left is Associate Professor Eric Lenz, of Carbondale; Master of Music student Eunice Koh, of Singapore; and Bachelor of Music student Emily Gallagher, of Elgin. 

Several weeks ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic reached our doorstep, we convened an emergency meeting for deans and program directors.

Our purpose was to discuss ways Southern Illinois University Carbondale could continue to deliver our curriculum and sustain programs in the face of an unprecedented shutdown of campus facilities. This included the suspension of all face-to-face teaching. At the time, we didn’t know exactly how things would unfold, but it was clear that all our programs would be affected in the wake of COVID-19.

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Halfway through a busy spring semester, instructors and staff were asked to transition courses to online and other alternate formats. Students were asked to adjust how they learn. The pandemic’s impact touched education at all levels, throughout the nation and around the globe.

Being creative

The response to the unexpected and unprecedented constraints across our campus was inspiring. In short order, the SIU community came together collaboratively and creatively to forge a new way, course by course, discipline by discipline.

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But what about programs with interactive or collaborative requirements? What about the fine and performing arts? Live concerts and recitals were among the first SIU events canceled or postponed. Social distancing requirements would preclude large audiences, rehearsals, workshops and festivals. Even smaller collaborations such as chamber music and jazz combos would become impossible.

School of Music faculty adapted with remarkable speed by offering individual applied music lessons using Zoom or Skype. But it quickly became clear that live video conferencing platforms carried significant barriers for music study, such as mediocre audio quality and spotty Internet connections.

Overcoming obstacles

Despite steep odds and initial frustration, hope has emerged in recent weeks.

“My colleagues have done amazing work teaching in new arenas — mentoring and inspiring our students, who have not just turned the corner, but are keeping pace and even thriving during these challenging times,” said School of Music Interim Director Eric Lenz.

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Lenz added that music majors continue to make technical and musical progress toward required performance juries. Voice and musical theater students prepare audition repertoire using audio practice tracks prepared by staff accompanists.

And several large ensembles have found ways to collaborate virtually. By harnessing emerging technology, the School of Music will soon be posting on social media, video collages of Saluki-friendly tunes compiled using solo home performances by music students.

Past live performance highlights are already available to the public on the SIU School of Music YouTube channel. We invite you to browse through these performances.

We are hopeful we can all gather, sooner rather than later, to enjoy the many symphonies, operas, recitals, and other arts events postponed due to forces beyond our control. For now, we can safely shelter, assured that creative flames continue to burn brightly in SIU Carbondale’s School of Music.

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Meera Komarraju is the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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