UD music programs shift to online instruction and performance

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Photo courtesy of the UD Music Department

After the Irving campus was closed for the spring semester, the faculty of the University of Dallas music department recognized that they had to cancel their performances scheduled for this semester. However, music continues to enrichen the lives of the students, both through their own practices and through online instruction.

On March 16, members of UD Chorale were informed through an email from Director of UD Chorale and Schola Brian Bentley that their performance of Theodore Dubois’ “Seven Last Words of Christ” was canceled.

Subsequent emails from Bentley expressed sadness over the fact that the chorale could not meet for the rest of the semester.

“I was disappointed, of course, we were working really hard on some beautiful and fun pieces,” junior English major and soprano in the UD chorale Abigail Ross said in a text.

Private music lessons and music classes have switched to meeting remotely through various online programs.

Despite having no performances to prepare for, Bentley and Director of Music Kristin Van Cleve continue to encourage the musical interests of their students by sending them chamber ensemble and vocal pieces to consider.

One of Bentley’s previous weekly assignments for the chorale was an arrangement of “Messiah – A Sacred Oratorio” by George Friderich Handel. The singers were instructed to listen to the piece and analyze its significance.

“The analysis can include information about the historical context of the work, musical details, emotional impact, genre [—] basically anything about the piece that strikes them as interesting or notable, as well as their opinion of the piece,” Van Cleve explained in an email.

Sharing extraordinary musical pieces is one way Van Cleve and Bentley can engage their students and help cultivate their skills as they maintain social distance.

Van Cleve appreciates giving “students the opportunity to hone their listening skills (one of the most important things for a musician) and to be exposed to repertoire they might not otherwise have encountered.”

Undergraduate seniors pursuing a music concentration are cooperating with their instructors for decisions about their senior performances. For most students, this will mean recording their individual performances and submitting it to their instructor. A senior’s recorded performance will fulfill the requirements for the music concentration.

Instead of performing their recitals before UD music faculty and students in the Catholic Foundation Board Room of Cardinal Farrell Hall, seniors will perform before their families in the solitude of their own living rooms.

UD Alumna Francesca Schell, who graduated in 2019 with a music concentration, expressed sympathy for music students adjusting to a semester without performances. Schell was a vocal student of Sharon Gross, voice and lyric theater instructor, during her time at UD.

“My senior recital was one of the highlights of my senior year and I hate for any music student to have to miss that experience,” Schell said in a Facebook message.

Junior piano student Jonathan Hebert will be sending in his piece, a piano solo version of “the Eighteenth Variation on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninoff,” to his UD instructor, Andrey Ponochevny. Ponochevny will then create an online recording of the pieces as a sort of “recital.”

“I definitely feel disappointed that there won’t be a real opportunity to perform because this is a piece I’ve loved for a long time,” Hebert said. “I’ve been to a few live performances and the recordings just don’t come anywhere close to sweeping you away like the real thing.”

Despite this setback to his performance, Hebert sees a silver lining in how easy it is to practice piano from the comfort of his own home. “I don’t have to walk literally all the way across campus to Catherine from the student [apartments],” he said. 

Countless local and national concerts and performances have been canceled or postponed indefinitely as the global pandemic affects the performing arts. The music students at UD are frustrated without a satisfying expression of their efforts in front of a live audience, but they persist in their studies.

Van Cleve strongly urged the UD community to maintain an appreciation for music.

“Music can be a refuge and a means of solace during this difficult and stressful time. Whether listening to music or practicing an instrument, music can provide a much-needed sense of peace and calm amidst the global pandemic,” Van Cleve said.

Schell echoed Van Cleve’s sentiments, saying the isolation of the pandemic increased the significance of music to her: “Music is keeping me sane and I’ve learned to appreciate it more as it becomes less and less accessible.”

 The UD music department looks forward to seeing students again on campus next semester.         

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