Orchestra Keeps the Rhythm with Hybrid Schedule

COVID-19 has pushed orchestra students to newfound levels of patience and achievement. 

With the many new changes, no student is left unaffected as orchestra members wade through unfamiliar territory everyday.

Director Zachary Levi runs the orchestra department.

Like the rest of the music ensembles, the orchestra is not able to function at full capacity with large groups of students practicing together. 

Instead, 10-15 students work together with Levi at a time, switching off with the block schedule. 

“…we always had full membership, at least every day or every other day,” said Levi. “…Now the orchestra is split into four sections.”

The block schedule consists of four 80-minute classes, compared to last year’s 51-minute periods. 

With all the extra time, Levi is incorporating new material for his students to learn.

“We start every class doing these rhythm studies, which help students build musical skill,” said Levi. “We are also working through a technique book called ‘Essentials for Strings,’ and we do that through Smartmusic.”

Orchestra Director Zachary Levi leads his block one class in rhythm studies. Photograph by Elaine Paulk.

Smartmusic is a website where students can learn new music and techniques all online. 

In addition to learning new techniques and rhythms, Levi is also having his students research famous string musicians and learn of their accomplishments. 

“I guess I was surprised to know that students may play their instruments, but may not know who the best in the world are,” said Levi. “Every football player can name the best in the game, but many music students cannot do the same.”

Now, students must find the best player of their respective instrument  and present all their findings to Levi.

“It’s a new add-on to the experience to make it a little more enjoyable,” said Levi.

Students follow along with Levi in rhythm studies. Photograph by Elaine Paulk.

But the COVID-19 restrictions have affected different people in different ways.

Justin Miller is a senior in the orchestra. 

First joining in third grade, he has played the cello for over 10 years and plans to play for the rest of his adult life. 

With 9 years of normal orchestra under his belt and college auditions coming up, the new restrictions have posed a challenge for Miller.

“…I don’t get to see all of my friends that were in orchestra with me last year,” said Miller. “I have nothing against the kids in my class now, but I do miss my other friends that I used to talk to everyday.”

Still, he pushes through and enjoys the new block schedule classes. 

“I really enjoy them [musician presentations],” said Miller. “I’m actually going to school for cello performance and ed., so this is all stuff that I love doing.”

The lessened class capacities have been a blessing for Miller, who prefers one-on-one work to group learning. 

“I like having one-on-one time because I take lessons at ‘John Hopkins Peabody’ and that is just a one-on-one type thing,” said Miller.

John Hopkins Peabody is a prestigious music school Miller is aiming to go to college at. 

Though his senior year may not be what he was imagining, Miller appears to be just as excited for orchestra as he would be in any other time.

Unfortunately, many students are forced to undergo much bigger changes in order to stay safe.

Matthew O’Brien is a sophomore in the SHS Orchestra. 

Playing the violin since third grade, this is his eighth year in the orchestra program.

Due to safety concerns, O’Brien is a synchronized student, meaning he does all his schooling online. 

“I don’t think that it’s too hard, other classes are definitely a little bit more difficult online, especially the days that we’re not in class with staying on top of work,” said O’Brien.

Class starts by logging on to a google meet, becoming a part of an in-person class.

“First, we start with rhythm studies, and then he [Mr. Levi] will have us record work on Smartmusic,” said O’Brien.

Freshman Andrew Hetzer records assignments for Smartmusic in the choir hallway. Photograph by Elaine Paulk

O’Brien considers the musician projects one of his favorite parts in orchestra.

“I think it can be interesting, some of the musicians,” said O’Brien. “…The one that I looked up was Hilary Hahn. She plays the violin, like I do.”

Orchestra, like most of the school, certainly looks unique compared to last year.