WT School of Music still humming through complicated times

Local News

CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Navigating unusual time signatures and intricate rhythms pale to the difficulties of making music during a pandemic, says West Texas A&M’s School of Music, but it is finding a way to produce art and educate its students.

Following a few earlier concerts this semester, says WTAMU, student musicians will next be featured in a percussion ensemble concert at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3. The Harrington String Quartet, whose members are WT faculty members, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6.

The percussion concert will also be livestreamed on the WT School of Music Facebook Page.

“It has been a challenge to prepare with quarantines and ice storms, but the students are very excited to get on the stage after we were locked down before our spring concert,” said Dr. Susan Martin Tariq, director of percussion studies.

The HSQ concert – featuring works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Marin Goleminov, and Maurice Ravel – also will be livestreamed on the WT School of Music Facebook page.

“Our rehearsal schedule has been limited by the dangers of exposure, and as a result we’ve had to modify it. Less exposure is key,” said cellist Emmanuel Lopez, Periman Distinguished Artist and Harrington Lecturer in Cello at WT. “We wear masks every time, all the time, and we distance our sitting arrangement to be prudent and safer. However, this distancing and limited contact has made us rehearse more efficiently. We feel that our sense of musical awareness and collective listening have become much more incisive. Our skills have become more acutely honed and the experience more musically satisfying.”

The School of Music has said it followed recommendations from a number of academic and commercial organizations that conducted research to determine how COVID-19 impacts music-making, said Dr. Robert Hansen, Regents Professor of Music and director of the School of Music.

“The science taught us the increased risks involved and led to the development of best practices,” Hansen said. “Our goal in the School of Music has been to institute all the necessary practices so we could proceed safely with ensemble rehearsals and performances as long as conditions allowed.”

Ordinarily, says WTAMU, the semester would have been filled with the sounds of large vocal and instrumental ensembles. Perhaps the most notable absence is the University marching band, which has not performed on the field of any of WT’s football games this season, though a 20-piece pep band has played in the stands, and the University drumline played at halftime of the first game in September.

“Not marching is really rough,” said Dr. Russ Teweleit, associate professor of music and associate director of bands. “There’s no better way to start the year than with early band rehearsals. It’s hard work and long hours, but it bonds us like nothing else.”

Instead, the first weeks of school found students recording special duets, trios and quartets written by Dr. Gary Garner, emeritus WT music professor.

The band still rehearses, too, following recommendations from the College Band Directors Association and National Federation of State High School Associations, Teweleit said. Those include using blowhole masks and bell covers when playing wind instruments, having 6 feet of space around each musician, adding more air filtration units in rehearsal halls, practicing in small groups rather than the full band, and shorter rehearsals with time for several air exchanges before the room is used again.

Similar precautions are taken by the University symphony orchestra, said Dr. Mark Bartley, Lilith Brainard Professor of Music and director of orchestral activities.

“It has been quite a challenge, but the students have displayed exceptional desire and determination to play together and that has helped keep the ensemble directors’ spirits up,” Bartley said.

The orchestra livestreamed another concert on Oct. 18, but due to rights issues most of the concert could not be archived. However, the orchestra’s performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” can be viewed on Youtube.

The University said that the orchestra and choirs are also rehearsing pieces for the annual University Christmas concert, and will soon pre-record them for a December broadcast on Panhandle PBS.

The University choirs have already had two livestreamed concerts this semester; Sept. 29 and Oct. 15, one of which can be viewed here.

“The choirs have been meeting in various sizes of groupings and in short periods. We have worn masks and have stood behind specially built partitions. This has shielded the singers from spreading any germs to each other. The choir room is equipped to circulate the air every 30 minutes, so we give the room a break so that can happen,” said Dr. Sean Pullen, associate professor of music and director of choral activities.

Hansen says that the School of Music is also tracking positive cases and exposures, and suspending or curtailing rehearsals as necessary.

“We’ve been successful, but the downside is that these performances are not being given in front of a live audience, especially now that we are in the red zone, Hansen said. “In normal times, we focus on our mission to provide a large number of public performances along with meeting our educational outcomes. But all in all, we feel we have been as successful as can be expected with the latter, and our students are getting the experience they need.”

Lopez concurred.

“This pandemic has also made us appreciate each other in ways nothing else could,” he said. “We feel so lucky to be able to still bring music to our audiences by streaming and perhaps alleviate some of the stress of current times. We truly appreciate the professional, technical and moral support WT has provided in these tough times.”

According to WTAMU, a focus on the arts is an aspect of the long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.


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