By Gary Metzker,
And the band played on.
Long Beach City College will start the fall semester with online classes because of the coronavirus pandemic. Online-only courses have steadily increased over the years, making the college-wide transition easier for some. But other professors used to face-to-face instruction, such as those who teach labs, are still getting acclimated to virtual teaching.
One LBCC department, however, faces the challenge of staying in tune.
Because how do you teach music performance classes online?
“We are going to do the best we can,” Patrick Sheng, an assistant professor in the Department of Performing Arts at LBCC, said recently. “Despite the drawbacks of the performance program going online for the fall, I’m very thankful that we have the opportunity to offer these jazz courses.”
Sheng is the director of instrumental jazz studies and teaches classes like big band, jazz combos and vocal jazz ensembles.
“A big part of my job is organizing concerts,” said Sheng, who is a jazz saxophonist, “but honestly, all the energy of playing together won’t be the same this semester.”
Typically, Sheng said, the various groups rehearse for one end: putting on concerts. But since that won’t happen this, they must take a different tack.
“We will be doing recording projects,” Sheng said, “using different software where people can record at home.”
That, of course, will be in addition to some transcription and sight reading assignments,” he added.
Sheng has taught jazz and saxophone courses at McNeese State University, in Louisiana; Clark College, in Washington; and Washington State University. He has also served as the president of the Louisiana Association for Jazz Education and works regularly as a conductor, clinician, organizer, and adjudicator for honor bands and jazz festivals.
His main concern for the semester, Sheng said, is students having access to computers in order to participate in class.
Full-time students can apply to receive $500 to purchase a laptop. But during the spring semester, Sheng said, he noticed some students attending their Zoom classes from their cars.
“It really throws a wrench into the gears trying to take a class using a phone,” Sheng said. “But I can understand that internet connectivity in some apartment complexes can be really bad.”
Sheng also said he worries he won’t see non-music majors in his classes — the ones who are biology students or people who have retired and are just taking the class because they want to play in a band.
“For students in band and orchestra, it’s a fun thing for them to do,” he said. “This is a social thing as well.
“People played in band when they were younger,” Sheng added, “and without that social aspect, unless they are music majors, we won’t see a lot of other students.