Arcadia High School Orchestras Triumph During Distance Learning
Arcadia High School’s Symphony Orchestra performing Silent Night for the Holiday Concert on KCAL9 News.
(Photo Courtesy of KCAL9 News and the Arcadia Unified YouTube Channel)
Music lives on. The Arcadia High School Orchestras took the infamous expression “music lives on” in stride as they met pandemic-placed challenges with a determination to exceed all expectations for their music programs during distance learning. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Arcadia High’s four Orchestras have been able to continue practicing and performing. Their work, despite the distance, has even found them featured on the local news. It’s rare for broadcast news shows to air an entire performance, but Arcadia High’s Symphony Orchestra’s holiday performance of Silent Night was broadcast in its entirety on KCAL9 News.
The challenges posed by distance learning for these performing artists have made these accomplishments no small feat.
“The transition to distance learning has been really difficult because the core of what orchestra is is the idea of our students playing together, in person, and at the same time,” said Pin Chen, who is the director of Arcadia High’s four performing orchestras. “People can read books individually in the same room and it doesn’t matter. They can read anywhere they want. For Orchestra, having that taken away from us has been a struggle. It’s to the point where you can’t even clap together at the same time.”
Echoing Chen’s dilemma regarding the obstacles distance learning has raised, Lucy Pang, an Arcadia High freshman who is a part of the high school’s Concert Orchestra, shared, “The whole class can’t play at the same time over Zoom because of internet problems and lag.”
Chen also added, “Minor complications, such as latency issues, can become insurmountable obstacles for music programs everywhere during distance learning.”
In a typical setting, Chen usually has about 70 students in the same room playing together at the same time. This approach was more beneficial to the class, as it allowed her to “stop and identify where the issues [were] and we can fix them and move on.” While an in-person Orchestra rehearsal required five minutes to make the necessary corrections, Chen is now tasked with listening to everyone individually in a virtual setting.
Though the pandemic has caused many restrictions that orchestras have to maneuver through, Farrah Chan, an Arcadia High freshman and member of the Arcadia High Concert Orchestra, found that distance learning also provided opportunities for more precision-based help.
“Online learning allows for the teacher to pay more attention to your technique,” explained Chan. “We are learning more in that aspect of music, instead of how we would usually do in group performances and practices.” And although Orchestra through a virtual screen is not the typical idea of fun, Chan believes it is most definitely rewarding.
On that same note, COVID-19 restrictions have presented more learning opportunities outside of the classic technique and performance.
“We have also done some other non-performance things,” said Chen. “We just had a research presentation that each student had to do.”
Chen developed a project that required each student to give a five-minute presentation on a composer who is either a person of color or a woman. This project isn’t something that they normally take on, but online learning has opened up a new opportunity for a variety of activities.
“Learning about famous composers and many other aspects of music is beneficial and often forgotten,” Chen said, “But distance learning has provided a chance to work more in-depth on the many different areas of music.”
As is the case for many student performance groups and group activities, the opportunity to find community and build valuable connections is the draw for joining. Considering that concerts and classes are now online, Chen had to develop new strategies to ensure that community building is not lost. By planning a myriad of bonding activities and breakout rooms to introduce new members to establish relationships between students, Chen feels she is able to recreate the closeness the Orchestras have felt in-person.
“I find myself looking forward to orchestra out of all my classes,” Pang reflected. “You get to talk to your classmates more than other periods, and Ms. Chen’s bonding activities have worked.”
Arcadia High Orchestras fans can expect three more performances during the 2020-2021 school year. Currently wrapping up their Chamber Music, Arcadia High’s orchestras are now preparing for their annual Spring and Pops Concert that will work similarly to their Halloween and Holiday concerts.
“The Chamber Group recital will be in mid-March, and the Spring concert will come out in mid to late April,” said Chen. “The Pops concert will come out right at the end of the school year, and those interested can find these performances, as well as previous performances, on the Arcadia High School Orchestras YouTube.”
Despite the challenges presented by distance learning, the efforts to keep orchestra classes and performances ongoing have been acknowledged and valued by students. Both Pang and Chan shared the same sentiment, “We appreciate our teachers! Thank you for making the best out of our situation!”