Arts

U of O student playing the piano
Digital masterclasses are a great way for students to stay connected during these times. Image: University of Ottawa School of Music/Provided

A conversation with the School of Music’s coordinator of cultural activities

Though every University of Ottawa student has had their academic year heavily impacted by the ramifications of COVID-19. The students of the faculty of arts have been hit hard by the cancellation of in-person classes. 

Theatre without audiences, music without concerts, fine arts without galleries — these paradoxes represent a troubling reality for arts students of the early 2020s, and perhaps signal an incoming shift in how we value (or even overvalue) liveness in artistic disciplines. 

The U of O’s music department has figured out one way to keep students engaged during their degrees: digital masterclasses featuring music experts from all over the world.

Hali Krawchuk, coordinator of cultural activities at the U of O’s School of Music, said in an interview that one thing has stayed consistent in the migration to online study. Masterclasses for U of O students are still programmed based on professors’ existing relationships with working professionals and U of O alumni. 

“Networking remains a key component of how we select speakers to come in,” said Krawchuk.

“We look for experts with similar philosophies to those of the School of Music, but who can also provide outside perspectives to our students — a major part of postsecondary music education.”

These masterclasses represent a major opportunity for U of O music students to perform for local and national conductors — Alexander Shelley from the NAC Orchestra, for instance, is a frequent face at the U of O music department.

“Conductors can listen to different instruments, different styles,” said Krawchuk.

Another expert giving a digital masterclass to Gee-Gees is Bryan Waghorn, an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and U of O alum. He’ll be giving a digital opera masterclass on Feb. 22 which will be open to the public for observation.

The pandemic, for all its inconveniences, has allowed the U of O School of Music to engage speakers from all over the world, thus enriching the learning experience for music students.

“For our composer talk series, we’ve been able to invite composers from the U.S. for hour-and-a-half lectures without needing to worry about travel or scheduling,” said Krawchuk.

Of course, though, students and faculty alike are missing the in-person experience of the music department.

“You’re not always able to catch the nuance, the rich experience and synergy of live performance digitally,” said Krawchuk. 

Thankfully, the School of Music is one of few units at the university with a small number of one-on-one, in-person applied lessons, but obviously ensembles and orchestras have had to take a brief intermission until coming together is safe again.

“It’s getting smoother and smoother, learning the intricacies and capabilities of Zoom,” said Krawchuk of adapting to a whole new method of teaching delivery.

“It’s an ongoing learning experience.”

You can find more information on the University of Ottawa’s online masterclasses here.