Take note: It’s tough making music online

HUDSON—Challenges facing the music program and the budget dominated the Hudson City School District (HCSD) Board of Education meeting December 15.

The meeting began with a High School curriculum workshop which consisted of a presentation by Scott Vorwald, head of the music department.

Mr. Vorwald called a virtual ensemble “a great way of creating music together, but it has its cons” and “nightmares.” Hurdles include:

• Sound. Google and other internet companies each modify sounds in their own way

• Internet lag. “We can’t play at exactly the same time.”

• Copyright. In order to put something online, usually it has to be either original—written by Mr. Vorwald or a student—or in the public domain. In general, something in the public domain is over 95 years old

• Loss of community. “Students are in the room because they want the social experience of playing with friends,” said Mr. Vorwald. “You play the best when you can smell the breath of the people playing with you. I can say this as a musician”

• Technical difficulties are frequent. After a run of in-person meetings, this school board meeting was largely online. Throughout the meeting, various participants experienced minutes of not being able to hear or not being able to be heard. In addition, sometimes the audience heard short segments of extraneous background noise.

Mr. Vorwald said he tries to work around these problems by:

• Manipulating the screen, so students can see his fingers on an instrument’s keys

• Using multiple microphones “so they’re hearing not only me but their classmates”

• Using sound boards

• The students are “collaborating in strange ways.”

“We’re reinventing the wheel every day,” said Mr. Vorwald, who added, “Other teachers are too.”

One program Mr. Vorwald called attention to is the Music in Your Life class. He compared it to both a high school extension of K-8 music and a college course in music for non-majors. He said he tries to get the students to create and to spark them to participate in more music—including band.

Those joining band in high school can start in their own group until they get comfortable playing with those who have been doing so for years.

Two aspects of music Mr. Vorwald highlighted were listening and rhythm. “Listening is something I’m working on every day,” he said. “Music is a way to relax. I end every in-person class with just listening to music.”

“Rhythm,” he said, “is a huge thing. It’s more important than notes. It gives you a feel for music.”

Another course Mr. Vorwald mentioned is AP Music Theory. “I give the students a baseline. They analyze the chords and write melodies to fit them.”

Mr. Vorwald said that when “we build back,” the first thing he wants to restart is the marching band.

At the end of Mr. Vorwald’s presentation, Superintendent Dr. Maria L. Suttmeier said, “Thank-you for bringing music to life. Thank-you for keeping the music going.”

“This is an example of somebody going above and beyond,” said High School Principal Robert LaCasse. “We couldn’t send him out for professional development because there was no precedent.”

Somebody participating in the meeting said that Mr. Vorwald had been his daughter’s favorite teacher “by far.” She said that “sometimes music was the only thing motivating her to go to school.”

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