GVSU music faculty tackle challenges presented by online learning


GVL / Archive

Allison Rafferty, Staff Reporter

With Grand Valley State University classes being taught entirely remotely, students and professors alike have had to significantly adapt the way they had previously conducted their classes and done their work. The music department at GVSU has expressed their hardships and successes during this unusual time in education. 

Associate Professor Tim Froncek has been a faculty member at GVSU for 16 years and conducts the Jazz Ensemble. The Jazz Ensemble has a total of 17 performers, and Froncek said that the way he has to conduct the ensemble virtually is “totally different.” 

“I can’t meet all the big band at the same time and have them playing all at once,” he explained. Froncek added that because “this situation came on so fast,” there wasn’t a way for his students to have recording studio equipment, leaving the ensemble unable to play as a unit. 

“The thing I’ll miss maybe most of all is the live concert at the end of this semester,” said Froncek. 

This is Associate Professor Sookkyung Cho’s fifth year at GVSU and along with one-on-one piano lessons, she also teaches Keyboard Musicianship. The Keyboard Musicianship class has been meeting virtually on Blackboard Collaborate, and her one-on-one sessions have been conducted via Zoom and FaceTime. 

The (music) department was able to arrange rentals and purchases with local stores, so (my students) now all have an instrument they can practice on,” Cho said. 

A few professors in the music department said that sound quality is one of the difficulties they’ve been facing when trying to teach students. 

“When I play on my instrument, I know that they don’t hear my sound clearly. I have to find ways to verbally explain pretty much everything, which I find quite challenging,” explained Cho. 

Associate Professor Michael Drost said that “achieving good sound quality” has been the biggest difficulty since switching to virtual classes. 

Drost, who has been teaching at GVSU for nine years and teaches private jazz improvisation lessons and directs the jazz combos, said that he has been teaching via Skype and FaceTime. 

Despite challenges in sound quality and not being able to perform live for the rest of the academic year, professors of the music department praise their students who have been able to adapt and handle the change so well. 

“The private students are doing very well with their lessons,” said Froncek. “I’m having fun with the experience.”

“I think they are handling it superbly,” said Cho. “They are very good about uploading their recordings and staying focused during the times we meet. I teach an 8 a.m. Keyboard Musicianship class, and I am really impressed with how many students join me that early in the morning, eager to work.”

“I think they are doing well with the change,” said Drost. “The students are amazing in their ability to adapt and work with what they have.”

Even though students have adapted well in order to succeed in their classes, it doesn’t mean the change was an easy transition. Associate Professor and Director of the GVSU Select Women’s Ensemble Shirley Lemon has been at GVSU for twelve years and teaches both the ensemble and University Singers. Lemon said that she receives feedback from her students via email. 

“All of them express anxiety about the change,” she said. “It happened overnight with no conversation or input. It was the right decision, but it is difficult to have your life greatly impacted without any warning or ability to negotiate. I think everyone is struggling to try to make this a viable and practical experience.”

With all of the changes being made in the way classes at GVSU are being taught, music professors are doing everything they can to make sure their classes are being conducted in a beneficial way and that their students are learning the necessary material.