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Wind ensemble moves completely virtual amid pandemic

The last several months have brought about many changes to daily life.  

Students everywhere began going to school virtually and completing all work completely online while others across the globe began working from home or stopped working for a while.  

For Pittsburg State, there were many changes. It began with the sporting events being cancelled, then everyone was given an extended spring break and then face-to-face instruction was suspended.  

During the extended spring break Andrew Chybowski, assistant professor of music, began thinking of ways to move the wind ensemble online.  

“Well, this was kind of a new situation for everyone, the remote learning,” Chybowski said. “I was really aware of not overloading the students. They… (were) just getting used to that process, it was probably gonna be a big learning curve. So, I wanted to give them… (an) outlet not just for musical development but for also enjoyment… That’s probably why a lot of them are playing music and studying music in the first place is because they enjoyed having it in their lives. So, I kind of wanted to make sure that that was a focus instead of overloading them with a lot of busy work.”  

Erica Baldwin, sophomore music education major, plays trumpet and is happy that she is able to virtually perform with the ensemble.   

“Oh, (I am) absolutely (enjoying being able to perform with the wind ensemble),” Baldwin said. “I’m feeling blessed that we’re even lucky enough to have a professor that’s smart enough, not even smart enough but willing to put all of it together and to go through and do all of the editing for it…” 

Colton Sprenkle, senior in music education and oboe player, is also enjoying the virtual experience.   

“It’s unique,” Sprenkle said. “It’s good experience to have. It is difficult in a much different way.” 

Percussionist Steven Speer says that it is a much different experience than he would usually have performing.  

“It’s a much different experience,” Speer said. “I get to focus more I guess on my part instead of others because I can’t really hear all the other players parts until they’re all put together at the end.” 

The offer to perform with the ensemble way given out to high school students in the area as well.  

“Well, in a way a lot of… high school (students in the) four-state area have even less of an outlet maybe than we do at Pitt State just because a lot of them don’t have access to the technology to be able to play with each other online, to perform with each other or the time or background just to be able to do those kinds of thing,” Chybowski said. “So, I wanted to extend that offer if there’s any interest in high school students that are looking for some kind of musical outlet, this will give them an opportunity that they might not otherwise have.”  

Each student has faced difference challenges with virtual performances.   

“So, first of all… each individual student is in their own home and we don’t have like a professor recording studio,” Baldwin said. “… Everything that we do we have to record it like off of our phone. So, (something that is different is) definitely trying to figure out where to place your bell because if you place your bell too close to your phone then it sounds awful or if you place it too far away it doesn’t sound in tune. So, you just have to figure out where the right happy medium is to where you should place your phone and camera and then where you should have your bell be placed so that way you get the best sound quality possible.” 

Tuning has also been a challenge, according to Sprenkle.  

“So, I’ve been here for four years and the whole time has been spent training me to tune to other people and play tempo and stuff in real time like using my ears listening and adjusting what I’m playing to what I’m hearing in the second,” Sprenkle said. “But instead I have to have like a video of him conducting and the music and a tuner and a metronome and it’s a bunch of different visual things that I have to play with…”  

One of the biggest differences that Speer noticed was the difference between recording music and playing live.  

“Recording yourself and playing live to your audience are two different things,” Speer said. “When you’re playing live, you have the at least for me benefit of the rush of playing for people, the excitement. So that can help you play better. But when you’re recording stuff, it’s just you and so I find that I make a lot more mistakes that I end up, ‘okay, I’m gonna restart’ even though I probably could tape that, and it would be just fine.”  

Baldwin believes that going virtual presented a way for people to stay connected during these difficult times.  

“…I’m just happy enough to be able to do it because it’s been such a great way for the ensemble and even for the… (people) in the community who listen to the ensemble, it’s been a great way for all of us to be able to connect with each other and still be able to have a sense of humanity during this time and a sense of, ‘Yeah, everything’s a little bit bad right now but we at least have things left in this world to keep us unified and keep us calm and together,” Baldwin said. 

According to Chybowski, it was nice to collaborate with students and share a performance with the community even though it was virtual.  

“…It’s not quite a replacement for real performances but it’s been nice to be able to work together with these students in a project and to be able to share it with an audience even though that audience is kind of online on Facebook or whatever,” Chybowski said. “It’s been really helpful to kind of like have some semblance of performance online.” 

Though the experience is much different than playing live, Sprenkle has learned a lot.  

“I think it’s been a positive experience,” Sprenkle said. “I’ve definitely learned a lot of things and acquired some equipment that I can record myself (on) in the future. I actually got a grad school assistantship. I had an audition scheduled the week that university was cancelled classes. So, I had to suddenly do my audition online… but it’s been a good learning experience.” 

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