Blair School of Music students and faculty concerned about COVID-19 and the upcoming semester

Students and faculty in the Blair School of Music face unique challenges as the Vanderbilt community looks to return to an unprecedented campus environment.

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During a normal semester, the average Blair student spends a large portion of their day at the Blair School of Music, with their typical school day ending later than other Vanderbilt students. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University)

Thomas Hum, News Copy Editor

Students and faculty in the Blair School of Music say that they will face a uniquely challenging semester ahead due to campus-wide changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dean of the Blair School of Music Lorenzo Candelaria, appointed on July 1, declined to comment on the semester ahead for Blair students and faculty.

“One of the biggest challenges will be teaching wind instruments and voice in person,” Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Piano Melissa Rose said in an email to The Hustler. “There has been a good deal of research in aerosols, and we are closely following medical and scientific guidance for safe in-person instruction.”

Classrooms in the Blair School of Music have similar audio and video equipment as other classrooms on campus, but also include a piano in each. Rose added that faculty studios, performance halls and labs with digital pianos are also used for instruction. Students usually receive one-on-one performance and composition instruction during a typical semester in these faculty studios, per Rose.

“Of course, we will not be singing or playing in large groups until it is safe to do so,” Rose said.

Vanderbilt’s Return to Campus Plan states that Blair students will receive performance instruction in person unless the student or instructor needs to be accommodated in online instruction.  A distance of six feet must be maintained between instructor and student in non-wind areas, and plexiglass acoustic shields and a distance of ten feet will be required in voice and wind instrument studios according to the plan.

Sophomore Grace Kim spoke to the transparency of the university and the Blair School of Music regarding its music students’ current circumstances.

“The university has been accommodating to the situation as we know it now, but [sic] the Blair School of Music has been proactive in keeping all Blair students up to date about future plans,” Kim said.

Other Blair students like sophomore Shinwho Kwun feel that there are still some issues that the university has yet to address.

“There are still several points that haven’t been clarified, such as how practice room hygiene will be managed and how chamber music will happen with social distance regulations,” Kwun said in an email to The Hustler. “But I believe everyone is trying their best to get through the difficult circumstances and it would be impossible to devise and enforce a perfect plan.”

Kwun also commented on the need for access to sanitary instrument practice facilities. Currently, in the Return to Campus Plan, there is no distinction made between student instrument practice rooms and other types of public facilities around campus. The plan does, however, state that cleaning services for public/common spaces such as restrooms, lounges, lobbies and hallways will be increased. Common area spaces in the residence halls like study spaces and lounges will remain open while furniture in these spaces will be arranged in accordance with physical distancing guidelines, per the plan.

“If practice room usage were limited, students would be forced to either practice less or practice in their dorms while transporting instruments back and forth every day from the Blair building,” Kwun said. “This would definitely diminish our progress and stunt musical growth in a field that relies heavily on self-improvement.”

For Kim, practice rooms are a staple of campus life and allow for an opportunity to unwind.

“Practice facilities are really important to me,” Kim said. “Not only do I get my own space to practice, but the practice rooms are also my ‘get away’ spots to destress and just play the music I love.”

As for lasting ramifications that this departure from traditional learning may have on Blair students, Kim is concerned about the impact of limited access to in-person instruction.

“Because of our need to meet face to face with professors and other musicians, being on campus is important for Blair students, and the fact that we will be drifting away from traditional learning is concerning for our performance progress,” Kim said.

Per an email sent to Blair students by Rose, students are encouraged to purchase USB external microphones for performance lessons as well as computers and/or tablets to be used in note-taking for music theory classes.

Faculty are hopeful that alternative platforms will enable Blair to continue doing what they do best in the meantime.

“Musicians will always prefer to perform for live audiences, but during the past few months we have all learned creative ways to reach our audiences online,” Rose said. “When we return to live concerts we will also have learned many more creative methods of simultaneously reaching out to our virtual audiences across the globe.”