In the age of COVID-19 and distance learning, arts education may be among the most challenging disciplines to teach online. The performing arts typically involve lengthy in-person collaboration and rehearsals working closely together toward live performance with real-time reaction from an audience. The creation of visual art benefits from the hands-on interaction between teacher and student with all the resources of the studio. True to their creative and resilient nature, Saint Mary’s Visual and Performing Arts faculty and students are rising to the meet the challenge with innovative projects and strategies to continue their work in meaningful ways.
“We are artists,” says Jennifer Moran, chair of Saint Mary’s Visual and Performing Arts Department. “We are creative. We know how to try one approach and change our trajectory in the middle of a lesson because another idea might work better. In teaching visual and performing arts, we bring into being a unique curriculum every year, so planning something new is in our wheelhouse.”
In these past few weeks of virtual learning, the Chorale has continued singing, the dancers are dancing, visual art students are creating, and music students are continuing their lessons.
The Chorale, under the guidance of director Jennifer Moran, participated in the Episcopal Church’s Virtual Easter Choir, which was featured during the online Easter service from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
The group is focusing on “Healing Through Music,” in lieu of rehearsing and performing its annual spring concert. The students were partnered together and created musical playlists, including at least one song performed by Chorale, for each other in the “Music is You” project.
The girls are also engaged in the “Songs with a Senior” project, in which they call a grandparent or family friend or relative of that generation to teach them a favorite song from their youth and explain what it means to them.
Juniors are choosing music and writing the script for the Music Theatre Revue in October 2020.
Dance instructors Lisa Yount and Michelle Pearson report that the dancers are doing whatever it takes to keep dancing. Students are taking modern, ballet, stretch, and conditioning classes from Saint Mary’s faculty, who have created studios in their living rooms. Guest artists are joining in as well. Ashley Hathaway from the Carolina Ballet is teaching master classes in which our girls are participating.
Orchesis continues to meet, share videos, elect officers for the coming year, brainstorm possibilities, and share sentiments of missing the dance studios and comfortable couches in Bacon Gym. Seniors Kate Eagles ’20 and Frances Williams ’20 are writing the homily they would have given at the Orchesis Chapel scheduled for March 31, in hopes of sharing it with the school at a virtual chapel event.
“Each day, we move our furniture, shove our pets into another room (or not), sequester ourselves from other family members, and set up our computers to conduct our dance classes,” says Ms. Yount. “Kitchen chairs have become ballet barres. A new generation has been introduced to the boom box, and CDs have never been more valued. Yes, we are dancing!”
Check out this You Tube video of one of the modern dance classes this week!
Music students continue lessons remotely – with lessons reaching from music faculty in their homes in Raleigh as far as to our students in China. Voice students recorded Easter hymns to share on You Tube and with local assisted living facilities. Alternatives are being created for spring recitals.
Theatre Arts class, under the direction of Michelle Wells, has been exploring script writing and character development while using current events to inform personal reflective monologues. Technical Theatre class is designing the upcoming spring production, The Princess Talks, which will involve actors filming their monologues from home.
Visual Art Instructors Teresa Assenzo and Colin Murasko report that visual arts students have been creating stop-motion videos, studying the American Art movement and creating pieces that reflect today’s world but connected to the ideology of this movement in art history. Advanced art students have taken virtual museum tours and classes from the world’s greatest museums.
The Stagecoach staff put the 2020 yearbook to bed on April 2 and submitted it to the printer for publication. The yearbook students are engaged in a photography project designed to demonstrate the power of words and impressions that artists see and emphasize.
Media Arts students have been working on a portfolio to be edited with various software programs.
Enjoy this virtual exhibit of some of the work of this year's art students!
Life lessons and the gift of the arts
“The truth is, online learning in visual and performing arts isn’t easy,” says Ms. Moran. “But our students are accustomed to being challenged and pushed in our classes. All year, our girls have been learning persistence, resilience, critical thinking, and collaboration – now they’re putting those skills and qualities to work in a different way.”
The learning in our visual and performing arts curriculum continues, and the life lesson of resilience and the opportunities for self-expression in difficult times may be the biggest takeaways for the students.
As performing artists have offered their gifts of music and dance, and museums worldwide have opened their doors virtually to all, we have found comfort and peace in music, literature, and art on our computers and televisions during the long days and nights sheltered at home this spring.
“We recognize that the arts have the potential to help people make it through this unprecedented time in our modern history,” says Jennifer Moran, chair of Saint Mary’s Visual and Performing Arts Department.
“We can’t imagine how we would manage this crisis without spending time listening to music, reading, watching movies, and seeing art in a new way. The collective mission of our department is to bring joy to our students, our community, and the world.”
Mary Virginia Swain '77C and Jennifer Moran contributed to this article.