The Pioneer Orchestras debuted their virtual fall performance, developed through the new application, Upbeat Music on Nov. 10, 2020.
Before the app’s discovery, orchestral playing was conducted through Zoom which usually resulted in mismatched attempts of varying dynamic levels and clashing intonation.
“At the start of the summer, my expectations for orchestra this year were honestly pretty bleak,” said Quentin Brydon, a leader of the orchestra’s curriculum committee.
In June 2020, Pioneer orchestra director Jonathan Glawe discovered Upbeat and reached out to the app’s developers to collaborate as an educational consultant, providing regular feedback on the app’s functions.
“When Glawe reached out to me this summer to see if I wanted to participate in a trial of UpBeat Music, I was pumped. From that point my expectations were pretty high,” said Brydon.
The video showcases the program’s progress from its March and summer’s attempts, to a collection of unified recordings ranging from composed works of Tchaikovsky, Handel, Telemann, and many more that were recorded through Upbeat Music.
Class rehearsals in order to prepare for the showcase consisted of a combined curriculum of Zoom and Upbeat with Glawe and student teacher Amadeus Twu modeling and asking students to play along.
“One of the pros of having another teacher to work with in this virtual environment has been the ability to monitor engagement. For example, while one of us is teaching, the other might monitor and/or message students privately in the chat,” Twu said. “The last thing we would want is for any student to feel like they are lost in the material.”
At the end of each rehearsal, students were often sent to Upbeat Music to record short selections of their music in chamber groups which acted as an avenue for students to collaborate on the music with their peers.
After each student finished his or her recording, the application would compile all the individual recordings into a simultaneous performance in which Glawe and Twu would file through to search for any major aspects to address in the next rehearsals.
“Online learning is all about breaking things down into manageable pieces,” said Jennifer Meng, a leader of the mentorship committee which manages community activities between the school’s four orchestras and partnership between freshmen and upperclassmen.
Of course, like all applications, the early stages of using Upbeat presented technical issues and limitations, such as calibration difficulties and sound deficiencies. Student feedback on such restrictions were taken by Glawe who would report them to the developers for troubleshooting.
Overtime, students have seen the installation of new features, such as the backing track option which enables students to play along to recordings of professional orchestras and visually follow individual performers and conductors.
The orchestras incorporated Upbeat Perform into their showcase which was introduced just around a week in advance, allowing for a mass performance video of up to 100 people: a feature that was perfect for the digital showcase rather than recordings of small chamber groups.
And after numerous weeks of preparation, all the individual submissions that rolled in for each orchestra finally culminated into a series of 12 performances, featuring guest conductor Michael Adelson from the New York Philharmonic, fiddler Brad Phillips, the Argus Quartet, and even an archive recording from a 1963 Pioneer orchestra performance.
“My first reactions to watching the showcase premiere was a huge feeling of amazement. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, we really did this,’” Twu said. “I feel so incredibly fortunate for all the work that the students put in, and it was one of the most gratifying experiences to see it all come together.”
Brydon agrees, applauding the hallmarks that the orchestra have achieved.
“As a program, we managed to produce a polished product in a virtual space, which is definitely a feat to be proud of,” he said.
Now, with the winter showcase coming up in December, the Pioneer Orchestras gear up with experience of navigating online rehearsals, looking forward to future features of Upbeat and being able to utilize them to their best advantage.
“As we look forward to the winter showcase, I expect that we’ll find more ways to rehearse effectively as a whole orchestra and to simulate the in-person orchestra experience,” Meng said.
“If you had asked me a year ago if this would be how I envisioned my first musical showcase of my music teaching career? Not really, but considering the unique circumstances that surrounded Pioneer’s Fall Showcase, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Twu said.