NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Highs and Lows: Studying Music During a Pandemic

To describe this semester as anti-climactic would be an understatement. For my cohort and I, this would have been our final year of music school. As the new semester approached, our anticipation to collaborate, create, and learn together for what would have been the last time at Monash was almost unbearable. We were excited to perform, explore, and to succumb to our collective desires to make art and music.

By Darin Aqila

To describe this semester as anti-climactic would be an understatement. For my cohort and I, this would have been our final year of music school. As the new semester approached, our anticipation to collaborate, create, and learn together for what would have been the last time at Monash was almost unbearable. We were excited to perform, explore, and to succumb to our collective desires to make art and music.

When news arrived that this semester would be delivered entirely online, we were all understandably confused. How were we going to study a performance degree online? How would we participate in our ensembles? How were we going to perform? We were all disappointed and saddened, and we expressed our frustrations amongst one another without restraint.

Exploration in creative endeavours was not limited by our technical work, which would normally consume our last few hours before we felt the claws of fatigue at the end of the day.

Personally, this semester was testing but rewarding. I agree with my peers that hours we would have spent commuting to and from campus were instead often filled with practice or study. Many have expressed they felt they improved exponentially this semester, going as far as saying that this was their favourite semester thus far. Students stated that they felt more prepared for examinations, likely due to the extra hours available to practice.

Exploration in creative endeavours was not limited by our technical work, which would normally consume our last few hours before we felt the claws of fatigue at the end of the day. Many students proudly declared that they had written their first song this pandemic, whilst others boasted increased confidence in production techniques.

Any interactions, through Zoom or otherwise, were too purposeful, even if the purpose of the call was socialising.

My vocal and musical technique had improved drastically since the lock down started. I savoured playing and listening to music that I wanted, and I enjoyed the extra time I had to make music for the sake of making music. I did not, and do not, miss the anxious guilt that plagued me whenever I would spend spare minutes writing instead of practicing. I dedicated my hours to honouring music as an art as well as a skill, something that I would often forget during normal semester proceedings.

My peers and I agree that we have found the isolation aspect of this lockdown the most testing feature to this semester. Impromptu jam sessions were a common occurrence during usual semesters and filled the tedious hours between lectures. Ensemble and performance classes were dedicated to welcoming challenges and collaboration. Mistakes and accomplishments were celebrated equally in these classes. It was a time to gain valuable feedback from our peers, as well as learning passively through watching each other play.

Those opportunities were limited this semester. Some peers expressed that they lacked motivation to practice because they “weren’t surrounded by music”. They woefully lamented that their desire to practice and make music declined quickly as the semester progressed. This may be due to the lack of peer led learning (Green, 2008, 59-99). Though more time was dedicated to learning informally in private, opportunities to collaborate were limited to digital means. Any interactions, through Zoom or otherwise, were too purposeful, even if the purpose of the call was socialising. The online nature of this semester could not replicate the spontaneity that motivated these informal interactions.

Many of my peers, including myself, are deferring next semester. Personally, I enjoyed the extra time I had to create music, but the main motivator behind my decision was the lack of face to face interactions. This is also the main reasoning behind my peers’ choices to defer. I argue that music is a collaborative vocation, even solo artists often seek the expertise of others to make music. I value the things I learnt this semester, but I cannot justify doing another semester in isolation when there are little to no opportunities to collaborate in person. Nonetheless, I am grateful for this semester. It taught me the importance of informal exploration, and that I took for granted being able to play with my peers.

References:

Green, Lucy. 2002. How Popular Musicians Learn: A Way Ahead for Music Education. London University, Ashgate Publishing Limited.


Darin Aqila is a third year Music and Law double degree student at Monash University, specialising in popular music. She is a singer and a songwriter, with creative endeavours lying in composing and performing music theatre, RnB and soul. She is an aspiring entertainment lawyer and is passionate about legal education in the music industry. She was most recently a featured composer in Homegrown’s ‘The Power of Us’, and is currently in a production of ‘Urinetown’ with Bottled Snail Productions.

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