Orchestra During Coronavirus

By Sara Avery

Blackboard Collaborate is the new home of the Hampton University Chamber Orchestra (HUCO) amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Despite being virtual, students say that Orchestra Director, Jerry Bracey, has made the online environment successful.

"I feel Professor Bracey is truly doing the best he can given the circumstances," said Christian Peterson, a senior violinist. "I feel like it's been successful. I really don't know how he could make the situation better, because it's already hard doing it virtually."

While HUCO students are accustomed to playing "difficult" pieces like Symphony No. 38 by Joseph Haydn, they are using this time to go back to the basics, spending all of class and practice time on scales and arpeggios.

Although this may seem simple for a college-level ensemble, Bracey said that it is not in vain.

"Scales help students perform a musical selection better by knowing the key and the makeup of that composition. If they can play scales and sight read, it makes the music easier," he said. "Without scales, you would have no center."

While Bracey has adjusted to his new classroom, he is looking forward to meeting in-person again because he misses hands-on instruction with the students.

"To be able to go through the sections, give different advice, or just be able to coach the students, [virtual class] doesn't have the same quality," he said. "The virtual is okay, but I prefer the real in-person approach." Hannah Selders, a freshman violinist, agrees and can't wait to have in-person orchestra because she feels like she's missing out on building connections.

"I want to get connected with the people in orchestra more. It has been a little tough because everything is virtual," she said. "We're only talking in the group chat when an announcement gets sent out. It would be cool if we could talk and just check-in on one another."

Selders, who graduated from a performance arts high school, said that although HUCO is focusing on the basics, the class is still exceeding her expectations.

"This is what I was expecting. It's a little more actually," she said. "I thought we would just be playing songs. I was not expecting us to be doing basic things, but I think it's a good thing that we're doing it. People have different levels coming in, so we have to be understanding of that."

While she enjoys the current class set-up, she also has some suggestions on how to improve it.

"I think we'll get more done if we get an assignment at the beginning of the week and get two class periods to practice, then come back together to see where we are," Selders said.

Christopher Edwards, a junior violinist, also believes that some changes can be made.

"I would pick one person in each section to lead breakout groups and plan some type of online sectional," he said.

However, he is hopeful for the rest of the semester, and believes that with cooperation, it will all work out. "I think that we have the potential to be a great orchestra," he said. "If we just focus, set our mind straight, and keep practicing our scales, hopefully this will be a great semester."

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