Music Students Struggle With Ensembles

By Joseph Chapman

Youngstown State University students in the Dana School of Music learn critical performance skills when playing in group ensembles. Both large and small group settings teach different but integral skills. The pandemic prohibits group gatherings, and many students feared their ensembles would be disbanded this fall, but YSU’s student ensembles will play on.
Professor Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello instructor, said the university reduced the number of instrumentalists in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
“Most of the faculty at other institutions that I’m in touch with have told me that everything is canceled [at their schools],” Cahn-Lipman said. “Some have expressed surprise, even shock, that we are having any in-person ensembles.”
“The ensembles I played in when I was a student are what I remember most and best, and what I think I got the most out of throughout my music education,” Cahn-Lipman continued. “It’s hard to imagine that not being able to participate in ensembles in a normal fashion isn’t going to impact everyone who’s been affected by this.”
Currently, ensemble students rehearse outdoors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, as cold weather approaches, faculty and administration are still figuring out how music students can perform indoors without spreading germs. Wind instruments and vocalists face a particular set of challenges.
“A few months ago, we thought everyone could just be six feet apart and it would be fine. Now we’re reading more about how certain instruments like bassoon, trumpet, oboe … are also big spreaders. We’re understanding that singers are really sort of super spreaders. It could be a long time before singers are able to work together indoors,” said Cahn-Lipman.
Brendan McEvoy, a sophomore music composition major, struggles to find the motivation to practice without the ability to play music with others.
“An integral part of the music school experience is being able to perform,” McEvoy said. “We have composer recitals where all the composition students write something and find a group of people, again collaborating, and then perform it for people. Those are some of the most popular recitals on campus.”
“That’s the great thing about the university experience is getting to hear new music that you and your peers write and perform ourselves,” McEvoy continued. “And so having that opportunity taken away is really difficult to find a reason to try to better myself so it just has to come from within that desire to get better which is there, but it’s hard.”
McEvoy said the practice room restrictions have impacted his motivation to rehearse. Students must schedule times to reserve practice rooms and disinfect the space after they leave.
“You need that space to go and to have a keyboard, have a music stand, and have a quiet space. That’s been the biggest thing that we’ve all had complaints about: we can’t use the practice rooms like we used to. Everything has to be on a tight schedule,” McEvoy said.
Sara Bucci, a sophomore music education major, said the inability to collaborate easily with her peers is frustrating.
“Especially first years, they’re missing out on one of the greatest aspects of our music program at YSU, and that’s the great community that we have,” she said. “Everything is so split up and separated now that they’re going to miss out on that great environment.”
Bucci said smaller groups are a creative impediment this semester.
“With the smaller groups, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to have that extra element to our major, because music is so collaborative, and you need a lot of people to create an ensemble to make beautiful music. Since it’s getting split up, it’s a lot more difficult to learn about that aspect of music,” Bucci said.
Even though almost every department at the university has been affected by the pandemic, YSU’s musical penguins continue to perform.