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Celebrating Arts in Our Schools Month: Chorus class at A.L. Stanback still makes music, despite COVID

As a continuation of Orange County Schools’ celebration of Arts in Our Schools Month, we visit the chorus room at A.L.Stanback, where students are turning to technology to make music … instead of singing songs.

Yes, chorus class has been “different” in this era of COVID-19. Chorus teacher Erin Strickland has risen to the challenges of music education by having students examine the history of music, musical terms, and especially how music is a communicative art. 

“You have to feel as a singer,” said Strickland, “or it just doesn’t work, and that goes back to music being a communicative art.”

Through a variety of engaging projects, Mrs. Strickland has encouraged students to connect with emotion and to discuss internal struggles in a chorus room where “you can’t physically stand up and connect through singing.”

As the end of the third nine weeks draws near, the music units studied by the sixth, seventh and eighth grade chorus classes bring the in-person students together with those at home and also provide a different way to study music, during times when choir practice has been anything but.

Sixth grade choral students just completed a unit on “Peter and the Wolf,” which incorporated a study of characters and character traits. Using Chrome Music Lab, students were assigned to write the music, or score a one-minute, animated “robot” video. This assignment involved selection of the musical instrument used to set the robot to a tune and also the creation of the music to fit the robot’s movements

Seventh graders have recently wrapped up a unit on the Romantic Era, listening and learning how music captures a story. The theme from “Romeo and Juliet” was just one musical selection that students recognized as music that communicates a specific theme. Seventh grade choral students wrote symphonic poems / stories, many of which were personal and which involved students “exercising their emotions and demons,” as Mrs. Strickland described it. Again this unit reinforced for the seventh graders how music is a means of communication. 

Finally, eighth grade choral students have been studying the Blues and Swing / Jazz eras. One example of student work produced original melodies, set to a “bluesy, boogie-woogie bass line,” which was created by Mrs. Strickland. This assignment yielded a variety of “12-bar melodies” (music written in the Chrome Music Lab that’s length is 12 measures in duration, musically speaking). Mrs. Strickland explained that the Blues are about getting in touch with and expressing the rawest of emotions. 

So while COVID has put a cap on choral concerts at A.L. Stanback Middle School for now, Mrs. Strickland said that, with yet another app from the marvels of technology (Virtual Choir), there will be a push to perform come next nine weeks!

“This (COVID) has given us an opportunity to grow in different directions,” said Strickland, “But I’d rather be singing!”

Mrs. Strickland is a third year music teacher, nearing the end of her second year in the chorus room at A.L. Stanback.