Annalucia Zarate spent four to five hours per day perfecting her craft and preparing to showcase her work that she spent a year rehearsing. She was so proud to share her talent with her friends and family, and she dreamt of the day she would perform her first recital at the UCI Winifred Smith Hall for the public.
Unfortunately, Zarate’s junior recital was canceled last spring due to COVID-19. The 40 minutes of material that she had prepared and perfected was condensed to under 20 minutes for a Zoom call with few music faculty members.
Zarate is a fourth year music performance major in flute and minor in language science, spending much of her time in one-on-one Zoom sessions with professors and coaches. In addition to working in one-on-one sessions, she also takes flute performance classes and chamber orchestra classes.
“Usually music majors do a lot of one-on-one work, but it’s hard to do that over Zoom. This is especially difficult for my flute performance classes and chamber classes where we usually would play together or I would play with my pianist in front of the class. It’s all a big challenge for us right now,” Zarate said.
The audio aspect of moving to an online platform also raises many challenges for the music community. Programs like Zoom can often have a sound lag and it’s sometimes impossible to hear two people at once due to how Zoom wasn’t built to support these activities. In addition to technical issues, the acoustics and size of the room a person is practicing in play a big role in sound quality.
“It’s very interesting because my room is so tiny. I don’t have much room for the sound to hit the walls on and it’s very different from a big hall where there’s reverb and the ability for the sound to flow. A big hall would hide your mistakes better than a tiny room where the acoustics bounce back quickly and there is much more room for error,” Zarate said.
With the transition to online education, and every obstacle that entails, it can be difficult to feel like you are getting a full experience. Musicians pay out of pocket for private lessons and coaching. If their professor or coach cannot accurately hear them play over Zoom, it can be hard for them to give notes for improvement.
“My flute lessons are now digital and I still have to pay the same base fee of $500 for three quarters, which is kind of a let down because it’s through Zoom. It’s less of a quality education, I guess, just in my opinion. It’s a lot better when you have your professor there or an accompanist there with you to play along with you,” Zarate said.
Music students as well as the department have been doing their best to try out different programs and methods to help smooth over the virtual obstacles. To help with lag, some students are trying out different programs where they can connect their instrument to help differentiate the lag on Zoom or FaceTime. To simulate a group performance or playing sessions, students have been recording their own individual portions separately and then splicing them together in a program like Audacity.
“Obviously there’s going to be some problems, like some people play faster and others will go slower. Since we can’t see our parts in real time it’s kind of hard to put together, but even in COVID-19 we still find ways to do what we need to do,” Zarate said.
Currently, Zarate is preparing for her senior recital, which will take place spring 2021via Zoom and livestream. Zarate was disappointed last year when her junior recital was canceled in the spring since she had been preparing for over a year leading up to the event. Music performance majors are required to do a senior recital at the end of the year and the younger students are given the choice between a project or a small performance in front of an assigned group of music faculty.
“At the last moment, I wasn’t able to perform in our usually Winifred Hall on campus. That took a really big hit on me since I’m realizing now that I most likely won’t be able to perform my senior recital on campus this year either which kind of sucks because we don’t have a live audience with Zoom,” Zarate said.
Zarate will be performing her senior recital from her room on her computer instead of performing on a large stage for an audience filled with her friends, family and classmates. In addition to the Zoom call for her UCI music faculty, Zarate plans to livestream her senior recital on social media so that her friends and family can still be a part of this event and listen to her play.
Citlali Garcia, a third year vocal performance major, has also been working on adapting performances into an online format to share with the public. Last spring, Garcia worked with the UCI chamber group to put out recorded music on YouTube and is continuing to work with them this year.
The students submitted individual recordings of their voices, which were then mixed and overlaid to create one track that the students would later lip sync to. The students filmed the visual portion individually as well lip syncing to the mixed track. This was to optimize sound quality.
“Our choir teacher was in contact with professional sound engineers, so they were in charge of mixing all of our voices together and making sound like we actually were singing together,” Garcia said.
In class Garcia records and submits herself singing weekly, which allows her to gain experience in working with technology. The clips are currently being worked on and the students will get to hear the final product at the end of the quarter.
These new opportunities have pushed Garcia to learn new skills in technology and practice playing with different programs such as GarageBand as they pertain to music.
“I’ve had no choice but to learn how to work GarageBand and play around with the recording settings and the effects on there. For a project for my theory class, we had to do a composition project and were going to have to perform it live for our final, so right now I’ve really been experimenting with layering my own voice on there,” Garcia said.
Though Garcia misses walking around campus and singing on stage, she finds that she is more productive during this time at home and has more time to practice her vocals. Garcia is grateful for the remote setting in a way, as it has pushed her out of her comfort zone and forced her to acquire new skill sets that she can use even when this pandemic is over.
Many musicians are continuing their practice and sharing their art by carving out their own opportunities with the help of online platforms. This time has pushed artists to new skills and to new ways of presenting themselves. Hopefully, we will be able to see these wonderful musicians thrive again on stage very soon. Until then, we will continue to be listening virtually.
Yes, we can still hear you.
Claire Desenberg is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2020 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org