KO’s performing arts programs stay safe and creative

Arts

With KO returning to in-person learning, students are excited to resume arts classes, but with a twist. Performing arts classes specifically have undergone some of the most drastic changes to ensure that students and faculty stay as safe as possible. 

Orchestra is one of the easier classes to accommodate because it doesn’t require any changes that wouldn’t already be implemented in a regular classroom. Chairs are spaced six feet apart from one another, and masks remain on while playing. Junior Amrita Natarajan, a violist in the orchestra, notes that it can be very difficult to hear others, especially because the viola section sits toward the back of the room. 

“We have so far played through a few songs and worked on some scales as a group,” Amrita said, “really trying to get a feel for how to play without being in close proximity to one another.” 

Sitting so far apart while playing has been a challenge for students because a big part of orchestra is being able to hear and match the sounds of others. However, there is a silver lining to the situation. “I think that this year will really develop my ability to use my senses to hear and match with everyone else playing,” Amrita said.  

In other ensembles, it can be harder to hear everyone else because the distance between players is even greater. Band has been split into two 17-person sections that take place in Roberts Theater, and all of the students are 12 feet apart to comply with CDC guidelines. 

Junior Zeno Chen is a saxophone player, and he is glad that the band is back in person; however, some concerns he has center around the transmissibility of the virus in a musical environment. Luckily, Performing Arts Department Chair Todd Millen has taken into consideration all of the potential factors necessary to combat the spread of the virus. “We will play for the first part of the class,” Mr. Millen said, “and then take a break to let the air clear and move onto something like note reading or rhythm exercises.”  While the first couple of weeks have been mostly centered around reacquainting students with their instruments, Mr. Millen hopes to eventually teach a mainly skills-based class with a balance between performing and technique. 

Another class looking to hone technical skills is the Concert Choir. KO’s choral groups have split into three sections according to the ensemble they are participating in. Concert Choir only has around 20 students now that it has been separated from the other two ensembles, Voce and Outlook. Concert Choir still takes place in the chorus room, but the curriculum isn’t as focused on singing. Instead, students have the opportunity to learn about music theory and refine their skills. 

One of the biggest changes for students taking Concert Choir is that they have to sing by themselves in a plexiglass enclosure installed in the choir room. “Singing solo is a really high-pressure situation for many students,” Choral Director Steve Mitchell said, “so I hope to be able to build students’ confidence levels and make sure they feel comfortable in the choir room.” 

Sophomore Manu Narasimhan is looking forward to being able to sing using the plexiglass because he feels it is the best way to get feedback from Mr. Mitchell. “I hope to be able to get more confident when singing in front of others,” Manu said, “and I think that is something I will get the opportunity to do this year.” 

Students have also had the opportunity to learn more about the voice in general. Mr. Mitchell has been teaching students about vocal pedagogy, the study of the art and science of the voice. “It is sometimes nice to be able to take a step back and teach students about things they didn’t have the time to learn about before,” Mr. Mitchell said. “That remains crucial to what we do in choir.”

Voce and Outlook Director David Baker has been able to sing with his student groups in Alumni Hall. Students are spaced eight feet apart and wear masks while singing.  Because both groups are now under the direction of Mr. Baker, they are operating similarly. One large difference is that Outlook is now a half-credit class, instead of being a full credit, to accommodate Mr. Baker’s schedule and to make sure Voce still gets rehearsal time. Both groups have already begun learning some of their repertoire, which Mr. Baker hopes they will be able to record and share with the KO community. Online students can record themselves singing along with the rest of the class because they can hear harmonies live from students in the room. However, the number one priority will always be making sure that everyone is as safe as possible and decreasing the number of risk factors. Accordingly, there have been many adjustments made to ensure that those involved in the performing arts can continue to find a new sense of normal in such a different environment. 

Another elective affected by the new guidelines is Theater Director Kyle Reynolds’ Broadway Musical Theater course. In this class, students improve their singing, dancing, and acting skills in an effort to become a “triple threat.” The class has undergone a lot of restructuring because group work is a big part of Mr. Reynolds’ teaching style. “Creativity is more important than ever,” he said, “and I’m excited about the things we have been able to restructure in our classes in a creative way to accommodate remote students and this pandemic that we are living in.” 

Students are changing the way they are learning, while teachers are changing the way they are teaching. While it might be a rough transition for many, it is worth being back in person to be able to have face-to-face interactions with one another.

“I think the reason most teachers teach is to be around people and spend time with them,” Mr. Millen, “so I love being able to talk to them without experiencing a computer delay or a screen between us.” 

That sentiment has been echoed by many members of the KO faculty who are glad to be back in person after months of online learning. While performing arts classes might face some challenges, KO students are taking them in stride and continuing to learn how to become better performers.