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Learning online: A look at CCM's remote instruction

Students and faculty can’t meet in-person for lessons or classes, but that hasn't stopped the music

The University of Cincinnati has moved to remote operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that classes are now being held online through web conferencing tools like Webex, Skype and even FaceTime. Although this university-wide transition to remote learning is new, many College-Conservatory of Music faculty members have been hosting virtual video lessons for students all over the world for several years.

Student violinist KayCee Galano began weekly lessons over Skype with Professor Kurt Sassmannshaus when she was 10 and living in Brunei. Now a sophomore at CCM, she made her Carnegie Hall debut in October. CCM Cello Professor Alan Rafferty, a cellist at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, has also given lessons via Skype and FaceTime for years.

TV and computer screens show students tuning in for online instruction

Alan Rafferty's set up for holding remote instruction. Photo/Provided

Now Rafferty is teaching his orchestral repertoire and studio classes using web conferencing tools. His wife, Sarah Kim, teaches cello at Miami University and is also giving lessons from home. To set up their virtual classrooms, they ran a 100-foot ethernet cable from their home office to their third floor. They are using their TV for better picture quality as well as a high-definition video camera and an external microphone.

“I’ve always had an online calendar for my students to sign up for lessons so that hasn’t changed,” Rafferty says. “Once they sign up, we usually try Zoom. If sound quality isn't great we will switch to Skype or FaceTime. Each program has its strengths and weakness, but a lot of it depends on internet speed. We are fortunate to have good internet at our house, but not all the students have the same. Plus, there are so many more people online at all times that everything is slower. Before this started, I used to teach on Skype off my phone and it worked great!”

Rafferty has 16 full-time cello students enrolled in his studio class and nine students enrolled in his orchestral repertoire class, in addition to private lesson students. Jade Siebert is one of Rafferty’s students; she is pursuing a BFA in cello performance and music education. She says that she is more critical during her practice sessions because she knows that virtual lessons are not ideal for sound quality.

"I have never had online cello lessons but I have done online classes before,” Siebert says. “I have been enjoying the switch for classes like music theory and history because I am able to study and finish my work much faster than if classes were in-person. I do miss seeing my professors and classmates though. The most important thing is staying organized and knowing when assignments are due.”

She misses hearing people play and talk about music in-person, but adds that she is staying connected with friends and classmates through texts, social media and video calls.

Rafferty says that many musicians are accustomed to spending time alone to hone their craft in solo practice sessions, which can range from four to six hours a day. Still, he encourages students to go outside for fresh air — while maintaining social distances — every day.

Three professors and a dog in a video conference

Denise Tryon, Kevin Michael Holzman and Liz Freimuth discuss the Howell Horn Scholarship Competition submissions (with a special appearance by Ozzy the dog). Photo/Provided

Despite being physically separated, CCM faculty, staff and students are working hard to stay connected online. Interim Head of Ensembles and Conducting and Director of Wind Studies Kevin Michael Holzman recently hosted CCM's Graduate Conducting Seminar online. In addition to holding online classes, Holzman invited three incoming students to connect with current students in a virtual hangout. "We may be far apart, but we're still having fun," he says.

Holzman also worked with CCM Professor of Horn Denise Tryon and Liz Freimuth, Principal French Horn at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, to adjudicate CCM's virtual Andrew Howell Horn Scholarship Competition. The college also restructured its annual Opera Scholarship Competition so it was held online and moved both the Musical Theatre Senior Showcase and the Acting Senior Showcase online.

Additionally, patrons who miss seeing our student stars perform in person can tune in to performance videos shared in the college's new e-newsletter, CCMONSTAGE Online. The weekly e-newsletter shares videos, stories and other resources designed to help us stay connected even when we have to temporarily stay apart. Subscribe online to start receiving the e-newsletter.

“I miss seeing and hearing my students in person and can’t wait for that time,” Rafferty says. “I also miss the community of our studio class and spending time together. It’s a surreal time and I’m looking forward to us coming out of this well as a society.”

Students participate in a video conference call

Incoming students meet current students in a virtual hangout. Photo/Provided

Students meet in a video conference.

Students meet virtually for the Graduate Wind Conducting Seminar. Photo/Provided