Music Learning From Afar

Wednesday, May 13, 2020
By Adarsh Kumar
Juilliard Journal
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A still, showing tiles of each participant, from the Zoom reading of 'Nimrod'
Faculty member and alumnus Itzhak Perlman conducts this Zoom reading of Elgar's ‘Nimrod’

Orchestras and social distancing would seem to be mutually exclusive, so what happens in the COVID-19 era?

The Juilliard Orchestra’s Zoom performance of ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations under Itzhak Perlman debuted on CBS Sunday Morning’s “Sunday Matinee.” 

Adarsh Kumar (BM ’13, trombone), the Juilliard Orchestra’s personnel manager, reports on how the orchestra program is rising to the challenge.

The switch to remote learning this spring presented a dual challenge: providing meaningful instruction and artistic endeavor while ensuring that students remain on track to complete their required credits for the semester. As we embarked on this process of adaptation, it was clear that the revised curriculum must prioritize the evolving needs of students.

The orchestra program’s lineup of Zoom seminar and lecture sessions was informed by the contributions of nearly every one of our more than 350 students to a survey that assessed their professional concerns and interests. Topics so far have ranged from a Q&A with David Robertson, director of conducting studies, and a dramaturg’s take on La bohème to sessions on performance anxiety, guided meditation, contract negotiation, and preparing performance materials.

While we all miss learning, working, and performing together, we’ve been engaged in a number of virtual performance projects that showcase our students’ artistic capabilities, among them participating in Bolero Juilliard and recording Elgar’s “Nimrod,” one of the Enigma Variations. Above all, we hope that the continued efforts of staff, faculty, and students will strengthen our community in these trying times and renew our appreciation for the wonders of in-person artistry when it returns to Juilliard.

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​​​​​​Creative solutions to current challenges have abounded throughout the Music Division. To name just a few, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Metropolitan Opera is giving two Zoom sessions, for college and for Pre-College and MAP students respectively; Emanuel Ax (Pre-College ’66; Diploma ’70, Postgraduate Diploma ’72, piano) had a session for the piano students; Itzhak Perlman (Pre-College ’63; ’68, violin) had one with the orchestra students; Creative Associate Jason Moran was one of a number special guests in Jazz Studies; and mezzo-sopranos Isabel Leonard (BM ’04, MM ’06, voice) and Denyce Graves as well as bass-baritone Gerald Finley had remote residencies with Vocal Arts students. Instrumental and composition students have also had a chance to take part in composer readings online—sessions moderated by faculty member Melinda Wagner in which instrumentalists and composers can give each other feedback.