When remote learning made classroom concerts impossible, Musica Viva found a shift to online helped build a much-needed sense of community.
As an instrumental music teacher at Spensley Street Primary School, Pam Westwood knows the importance of introducing students to live music when they’re young. Nothing beats being in the room with musicians and their instruments – which creates a problem when a pandemic means nobody can be in a room with anybody else. As it was, the sudden switch to remote learning wasn’t enough to stop the music. Not-for-profit group Musica Viva, who has spent nearly 40 years introducing kids to the joys of the orchestra, quickly devised on online program that would allow schools intimate access to their instruments.
“We’d already arranged for Musica Viva to come in when the first lockdown started,” Pam says. “I asked my principal if we could still run the concert and leadership was really positive about it.”
The screen-based performance allowed students to engage more independently with the activities and resources.
Musica Viva’s artistic director Michael Sollis says the rapid development of online materials was intended to help support musicians whose livelihood was threatened by the pandemic (half of the company’s work involves live concerts at schools), as well as providing teachers with tools to stay connected.
“We commissioned all our musicians to develop online interactive performances of what they would otherwise have done when they visited a school,” Michael says.
“We developed 15 new digital offerings that teachers could direct their students to at home, and then we ran professional development for over 200 teachers across the country, training them how to use those tools.”
The online initiative proved extremely popular, with 180 concerts streamed to schools across the country during the first lockdown. While the screen-based performances couldn’t quite replicate the physical experience of seeing live music in person, they did have some unique benefits. One was the ability for students to engage more independently with the activities and resources.
“There was a whole menu of things students could do,” Pam says. “Sometimes I would direct them into specific activities that Musica Viva had set up, but they knew they could go and explore the activities themselves.”
“When you provide a platform for students to engage in creative thought, they will find their own connections, their own pathways and their own solutions to problems.”
Michael Sollis, Musica Viva’s artistic director
Those online resources included composition activities, videos to watch and questions to answer. The concert itself was based around the theme of water, involving a percussionist playing a range of household objects. Pam says the streamed performance not only reinforced etiquette about being a good audience member, but also of being a good online participant.
“There was a great dialogue happening, with students asking questions through the facilitator about the instruments. What was fantastic about the actual performance was that students could really be up, close and personal, with the instruments – much closer than if it had been live.”
One of the instruments shown was a water phone, which so inspired one of Pam’s students that he built his own, played with a violin bow. Michael says Musica Viva were thrilled to receive a video of the student’s endeavours.
“It was a wonderful example of how, when you provide a platform for students to engage in creative thought, they will find their own connections, their own pathways and their own solutions to problems.”
Making connections was more important than ever at that particular historical moment, with the school community scattered across suburbs and households.
“As a specialist, I’m trying to be in touch with 380 students,” Pam says. “To come together like that felt really important. Music just takes students out of their world – and if they’re experiencing that with their classmates, it’s even better. That concert was a highlight of remote teaching for me, because there was a sense of community. Other than that, there is a lot of one-on-one work.”
Michael says schools have enthusiastically embraced the online offering. “There was a little nervousness on the part of some schools, because they’d never done anything like this before. But to see how powerful it was to keep their communities connected, whether kids were at home or back in the classroom, and to have an opportunity for the whole school to do an activity together was something so special.”
Musica Viva is hoping to return to live performances in the coming year, but will keep online concerts among its offerings.
“They’ll be used into the future, in a different way,” Michael says. “But what they’re doing in our online experience is learning how to navigate an unknown world and express creative solutions in a community. And those are the two biggest challenges that schools have been facing since physical isolation happened.”