By Ryan Partin
The fall semester of the 2020-21 school year brought many unique challenges for our educators and students. Teaching music during a global pandemic is likely not something that most teachers ever thought we would have to do. Every day we walk through the door, we walk into uncertainty. Who will be in class today? Will some of our students be gone for several weeks? How can we ensure that our students who are remote learners still receive a quality music education? For the districts who are fully remote, how can we continue to provide a meaningful learning experience? For those who are able to meet in-person, we must consider the logistics of rehearsing ensembles while adhering to the aerosol disbursement guidelines set forth by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
All of these challenges can certainly be overwhelming. Luckily, we have amazing music educators in our district and in the state of Kansas! Connect with your colleagues! Our district has a wealth of knowledge from the exceptional educators in our state. I encourage everyone to reach out to one another. We are in this together and someone may have found a solution to the challenges you find yourself facing.
In SWKMEA district news: Our board made the decision to not have in-person honor ensembles this year. This decision was made out of concern for safety due to the current situation with Covid-19. Even though we were not able to hold our mini-conventions, our district still held auditions for the following groups: middle school band, high school band, middle school choir, high school choir, middle school orchestra, and high school orchestra. High School Choir auditions took place on the FestivalScores platform this year. Our board felt that the educational value of auditioning for a select honor ensemble was too valuable to cancel. Students were selected for “paper ensembles,” meaning that their name was listed on the ensemble roster even though they did not meet for a performance.
High school district honor band audition numbers have been low in recent years. In an effort to encourage more submissions, our board voted to change one of the audition pieces. Audition excerpts are usually selected from the state band audition pieces. High school band chairperson, Jacob Miller, assembled a committee to look at possible changes. They found that the majority of high school band directors in our district were in favor of changing the audition excerpts. Our board voted to keep one audition excerpt aligned with the state audition pieces and the other audition excerpt would be a unison etude, which could be rehearsed together as a class.
We were still able to hold our 2nd annual SWKMEA Piano Competition in person. The event took place on October 17th at Barclay College. SWKMEA Past-President, Brandon Wade, spearheaded the formation of this competition and had the following to say:
The vision of the piano competition started due to the fact that we have a vast shortage of accompanists in the Southwest District. I began to look at the student body at Pratt High and in our earlier years we have quite a few students who take private piano lessons, but when they get to high school they almost all quit taking private lessons. Of course this is due to the strain of high school activities, but I thought what if we give them an incentive to stay in piano. Thus the piano competition was born! This competition serves a multifaceted purpose; first it gives our piano students in the district another opportunity to perform for an adjudicator, these students normally wouldn’t perform until February at the KSHSAA regional piano competition. Second, this competition allows students to see other pianists across our district, and begin to network and build friendships. Third, with the caveat of a scholarship, it may keep students involved in their private piano studio and keep them playing through high school. There is always a demand for accompanists in our communities and that is a perfect way for young adults to supplement their income in college or after. Getting our students to understand the value of not only playing for enjoyment but how this can help in other ways in the future is important in getting students to continue their piano education through High School. I hope that this competition serves a need that our piano students have, and they find joy in all the things associated with it!
Our educators in SW Kansas are among the most dedicated and resilient professionals I have had the pleasure to know and work with. Despite the mounting obstacles, teachers in SW Kansas have not only endured but continue to provide a quality music education for all students.