Member blog: Studying at conservatoire during COVID-19
ISM student member Elizabeth Rowland shares her experience of studying at conservatoire in the midst of a global pandemic.
Whilst getting a scholarship to one of the finest conservatoires in the UK to play viola was a dream come true, I never expected it to be quite as it was when I arrived in September 2020.
Needless to say, 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, not least for the performing arts industry. Like many aspiring performing artists, I have felt the effects of the pandemic on my studies that will one day inform my professional career.
When the UK’s first lockdown was announced, I suddenly found my upcoming A-level exams hanging by a thread and my part-time waitressing job gone. After accepting that my A-levels were beyond my control and processing being furloughed from my job, I immersed myself in the only thing I knew was certain. My place at conservatoire.
Practice filled my days and when I wasn’t practicing, I was supporting other artists by watching their live streams and home Zoom concerts. I found it difficult to remain hopeful that I would start studying in September, but I seized this unique opportunity to prepare myself as much as possible before I would start my professional training.
Like most students starting university, I was naturally nervous to begin the next chapter of my life, but the six-month lockdown had me eager for change. It was with great excitement that I moved into my student accommodation and met my new housemates for the first time. Over the next few months, they became like a family to me as, to avoid spreading the virus, we were cautioned not to mix with others outside of our household. In just one term we grew so much together; whenever possible we squeezed into our small kitchen and played music together – we were fortunate enough to all be string players! After so many months of only hearing the sound of my own instrument, the opportunity to interact with others via our shared musical language was something we all found particularly emotional. There were times during my first term that I found difficult, especially processing the uncertainty of the situation and not being physically able to see my family as much as would normally be possible. However, the conservatoire’s student support network was very present and active, taking great care to ensure all the first year students felt safe and at home.
Like for so many students across the world, digital learning environments have become the norm, and embracing this new delivery method of study was an essential part of being able to continue learning. My institution introduced a blended learning approach to ensure musicians were receiving face-to-face individual lessons for their principal instruments, as well as providing the opportunity to rehearse small chamber ensembles in line with government restrictions. This was crucial as, regardless of the effort put into online learning, nothing can fully replace the physical interaction between students and teachers in face-to-face sessions. A laptop screen cannot convey the same subtlety or range of dynamic expression that a teacher gives when they see students perform in person.
My own experiences over this past year have given me cause to speculate on the future of music. For anything to return to the status quo regarding musical education and performing, much will depend on the ability of individuals to play and work together and for audiences to fill live venues once again.
Until such time as vaccines and treatments are delivered comprehensively, study will have to continue mostly online, and performance will be limited as social distancing requirements demand reduced audience sizes. However, many artists have found ways to deliver performances through various forms of social media and when restrictions were eased, live concerts resumed, albeit in a very different way.
In all genres of music, whether it be pop, jazz or electronic, the desire that people share to perform for the pleasure and entertainment of others has not diminished. Rather, what COVID-19 has shown us is that music, more than ever, is an important and integral part of our mental wellbeing. For those both producing and consuming content, this is, in my belief, one of the key aspects of life that has helped people through these difficult times. Whether it be a pop star doing a mobile disco in her kitchen or young classical musicians playing solo Bach or the choirs formed by groups of people singing from their balconies in apartment blocks, the shared love of music has united us all.
For all those who shared their music through picking up an instrument, singing a song or even just clapping to a beat for the benefit of others, I salute you. Together, despite the challenges we may face, the show will go on and music will endure.
Keep following my journey @lizzie_viola_ on Instagram!
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