If I had a nickel for every time that someone in the last month has asked me, “How are you teaching chorus online?”, well… I’d have LOTS of nickels. My response has varied from an indignant “Of course, I do!” to a kinder, “It’s different, but we are still singing and sharing music every day. Why wouldn’t we?” I got the giggles in a recent Zoom meeting with Director of Dance Ms. Yount and some others last week when a friend said, “How are you, Lisa? Are y’all still dancing?” Ms. Yount backed up so the camera captured her entire living room with every piece of furniture pushed to the walls and stacks of CDs next to an 80’s boom box. Yes! The dance goes on!
We are artists. 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 completely unique curriculum every year - so planning something new is right in our wheelhouse.
In this season of virtual learning, we actually have access to arts resources we wouldn't have under normal circumstances. Museums all over the world have started giving virtual tours. Broadway shows are being shared on Facebook every evening. The greatest dance companies are offering free tutorials online. Our girls are learning from prima ballerinas, virtuosos, maestros, and Tony-award winners. Voice students recently attended a Carnegie Hall webinar watching party with other audience members from Russia, Brazil, and Australia. Artists are compelled to join one another and share their passions, and arts organizations have a legacy of valuing arts education above all else. Our resources in visual and performing arts are almost limitless.
Nuts and bolts, what are we actually doing? Art students are doing photography projects, exploring American art, and wrapped up this year's yearbook. Dancers are learning new combinations and recently, our student dance company, Orchesis Dance Theatre released a virtual spring dance concert and Orchesis chapel service. Chorale students are calling grandparents and grandfriends and asking them to share stories about the songs of their youth and why that music still means so much to them. Some of our girls joined the National Cathedral’s Easter virtual choir. Actors are working on the spring play, Princess Tallks, which they will make into a film production! The technical theatre students are brainstorming ways to get props and costumes to the actors for the project. Music students, now spread across the globe, continue their lessons and our senior music students will be featured in a special virtual recital.
The truth is, online learning in visual and performing arts isn’t easy; however 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 are putting those skills to good work in a different context.
The Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) faculty decided unanimously on some non-negotiables from day one of online learning. First, our classes must continue to bring joy to our students, our community, and our world. We have loved having families visit our online classes! Second, our classes must continue to build connection and camaraderie for our students. The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest trauma most of our girls have ever seen, and every single one of them has a story that deserves to be shared. The arts are the greatest form of self-expression, and we have a powerful opportunity to help Saint Mary’s students reflect and, ultimately, heal by processing their journeys through their creative passions.
And, yes, we are experiencing loss. Our school year would normally culminate in live celebrations, triumphs, and performances that demonstrate not only the skills and theory students have mastered over the year, but the beauty, artistry, and lasting bonds that have also developed through the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to bring a show to the stage or an exhibition to the gallery. This academic year, we won’t celebrate those moments in the same way; part of artistic courage is naming and mourning those losses.
The VPA faculty and students are unbelievably grateful to be living and learning in a community that loves the arts, that sees the arts as a channel for expressing oneself -even in times of loss and grief, and that continues to applaud artistic creativity and achievements from wherever we have landed in this socially-distanced world.Thank you to everyone for loving the arts and artists of Saint Mary’s.
This last month has taught me one of the most powerful lessons in my life. In a time of crisis, our souls are our currency. We need the arts to fill us - heart and soul. The arts have been with us from our very beginning, and they are integral to the human journey. Everywhere you turn, you see the arts and that's why the arts will see all people through this unprecedented time in our history. When we are finally on the other side of this pandemic, and we will get there together, what will you look back on that sustained you? Not toilet paper and bleach. I think you will remember how the arts were a comfort and an outlet and, a most of all, a way to connect with people you’ve never met and with those you love the most through the arts.