Teaching ‘Front Row’

Heinz Hall’s stage is still bare now, but if you have not seen PSO’s imaginatively staged and filmed digital concerts in Front Row, watch before the links expire!

By Jane Wall and Adrianne Kelly

As winter asserts its strong grip on Pittsburgh, our hearts are warmed by listening to great music. If you haven’t tuned in to Front Row: The PSO Virtual Experience, then you are missing an opportunity to get up close with the Symphony and hear some great music. I have shared this fabulous resource among student teachers with whom I work at Carnegie Mellon University. Not only are we enriched personally by the great programming but having the opportunity to share the interviews and music with our students is invaluable.

During the month of February, we make it a point to focus on music written by African American composers. These resources are rich with content. String students will be fascinated by the interview with Jessie Montgomery and the performance of her string quartet as part of Episode 5: For the People. The technique required to execute the strumming and pizzicato passages in this piece should spark plenty of conversation and attempts to replicate.

The focus on women composers in this series can take us right into March for Woman’s History Month. At this time of the year the days may seem to drag.  Having additional materials to enrich the curriculum is very helpful. By including five female composers in this series, the symphony has put the resources at our fingertips.

Adrianne has been out and observing some of the CMU and Duquesne Student teachers as they work in classrooms in several of the suburban schools. We are glad to see some school districts returning to the classroom. It does give us hope that things are improving.

I have been impressed with the way in which some of the elementary general music classrooms are making music together during these COVID-19 days.   The schools that I have visited during the 2020-2021 school year, have been conducted in a hybrid type of instruction. The classes are held in the school music room, with the majority of students in person and a few students online.  

Although protocols vary from one district to another, as well as from one school to another, music continues to be taught to students through personal instruction.  I have observed music classes playing ukuleles, Orff instruments, fingering their recorders (without blowing into the instrument, they actually practice their recorders at home and make videos of themselves performing a given song) and humming.  All schools have the students fully masked, socially distanced and their music teachers taking on the full responsibility of wiping down, disinfecting and sanitizing the instruments after the students have played them.

It is great to see that music is being shared and enjoyed in spite of the limitations imposed because of the pandemic. We are grateful for the musical resources readily available, the determination of our teachers, and the resiliency of the students as we experience great music together.