The benefits of music education are well-researched and documented, and advocates have long fought to keep it alive and well in schools.

However, in this current COVID climate, school systems nationwide are having to make the difficult decision to cut in-person fine arts instruction from the curriculum—or at the very least, significantly modify the way music classrooms will function.

As a member of the College Orchestra Directors Association (CODA), Concordia’s Music Department Chair Dr. Louis Menchaca has contributed his expert insights to a report that provides recommendations for orchestra educators in the 2020-21 school year—no matter what class format teachers may find themselves in. His contributions, as part of CODA’s COVID-19 task force, are published in the “COVID-19 Rehearsal Response Report for Fall 2020.”

Below are a few takeaways. The full report (with more teaching modification suggestions) may be found here.

On-Campus Instruction with Social Distancing

Rehearsal Plans
  • Divide the orchestra into multiple small ensembles
  • Strings-only orchestra and string-heavy repertoire
  • Rehearse sections of the orchestra separately
  • Rehearse in larger and/or outdoor spaces
Performance Plans
  • Live-streaming concerts with little or no audiences
  • Virtual/pre-recorded projects
  • Perform traditional concerts with social distancing guidelines implemented for orchestra onstage and audience in performance space
  • Alternative, outdoor, and/or larger venues

Blended Instruction

Rehearsal Plans
  • Divide the orchestra into multiple small ensembles in person with some remote component (sectionals, research on background of pieces, score study, critical listening assignments, guest artist presentation, skills/orchestral excerpts lab)
  • Solicit practice help from faculty/guest artists, including live and recorded tracks
  • Phased chamber music in collaboration with audio recording department
  • Rehearse individually and remotely early in the quarter, sectionals-only mid-quarter, then finally altogether near performance
Performance Plans
  • Research presentation as part of a livestream concert
  • Small chamber events with interview segments
  • Creating a sound installation
  • A performance project exploring source texts on historically informed performance practices

Modular Instruction

Rehearsal Plans
  • 7-week modules
  • Sectionals: technical work, fingerings/bowings/etc., one person playing/others muted
  • Experiential projects: audition techniques, orchestral skills/technique, musicianship
Performance Plans
  • Livestream
  • Live performances of smaller ensembles
  • Record rehearsal sessions or a ‘performance’; upload to a remote learning platform
  • For chamber groups – use Acapella app to compile individual audio and video recordings

Fully Remote Instruction

Practicum activities
  • Learning orchestral excerpts
  • Chamber ensembles
  • Sectionals
  • Remotely held masterclasses
Theoretical activities
  • Guest speakers
  • Active listening
  • Score analysis

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

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