The structure of the WHHS orchestra tremendously shifted during remote learning. Typically, the orchestra students rehearse pieces to prepare for a concert, but during online learning all concerts were canceled. Instead of playing their instruments in class, students listened to pieces, created music of their own and learned music theory.
“We mostly listened to different pieces,” Maeve Henderson, ‘25, said.
WHHS Orchestra Director John Caliguri, said that the effects of learning online were extensive, especially for students in the Beginning Strings class.
“They were very far behind,” Caliguri said. Students had to learn need-to-know techniques, such as how to hold a bow, via a computer screen. Most students had their cameras off, making it harder for teachers to assess the accuracy of students’ techniques.
The pandemic also took away the social aspect of the orchestra due to the lack of interaction caused by remote learning.
“I was really happy to see my friends,” Henderson said when asked what she missed during remote learning.
However, not all the effects of remote learning were negative. Naomi Mazander, ‘24, recalls listening to Rite of Spring as an assignment during online learning. She mentioned that previously hearing the recording during remote learning helped her play the piece in class.
“Having background information definitely helps to enhance our playing skills,” Mazander said. Specifically, she says she would not have thought to play the piece in a “rough” manner if she had not previously watched the video in class.
Coming back to school, the directors of the orchestra made some changes. One of those changes included having seating auditions, which usually would not begin until a month into school, earlier.
“We started this year by doing the auditions first, which is different from what we have done before. Usually, the students will get to hear the audition music and figure it out. This year, we have left them on their own to see where they really are,” Caliguri said.
The seating process changed extensively because of online learning. Typically, seating descends based on skill- the first seat belongs to the most skilled player and the last seat is given to the least skilled player.
“It’s kind of a test in a way, not a graded test but an indication for us to see where they really are,” Caliguri said.
However, this year’s seating is no longer from the strongest to the weakest player.
“We needed strength, all the way back, which would then help those who have not played all year when they hear somebody else playing correctly,” Caliguri said. He hopes having students mixed will help strengthen the overall sound of the orchestra. This is not the only change Caliguri wants to put into place.
For the 2021-22 school year, Caliguri has some new goals for the orchestra.
“One thing we are doing differently this year is trying to keep better maintenance of the instruments,” Caliguri said.
The beginning of the school year is always dedicated to fixing everybody’s instruments. Caliguri notes that many students’ instruments have been out of use for a year and a half.
“We’ve been doing a lot of instrument repair and getting them back into playing shape because, you know, tuning an instrument is not the easiest thing for a string player. I always tell the kids I can drive my car, just like you can play your instrument, but I can’t fix my car,” he said.
As the orchestra transitions away from beginning of the year procedures, students have begun to engage in new activities. Right now, orchestra students have all auditioned and seated, and are now reading new music.
“We can see where the weaknesses are, and it’s in sight reading,” he said. This is something he hopes to address throughout the school year.
As the other orchestras are sight-reading, Chamber Orchestra, the most advanced orchestra class, is preparing for their Halloween concert on October 28, which will be the first orchestra concert in over a year. The students and teachers are excited to take part in live performances once again. Caliguri recounts his experience at the first live performance after the pandemic.
“I went to my first live performance Sunday. I went to hear the Queen City Opera. And it just felt so good to be there,” he says. “Doing a live performance I think means a lot to the musicians and I think it means a lot to the audience- It’s what we’re meant to do.”