Music During a Pandemic: a Personal Narrative

Henry Hoeffner

As Weston High School prepares to resume in-school learning, I’ve reflected a lot on the past year and what it was like to be a music student during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a freshman, I am fortunate to play for Mr. Fasoli in both Wind Ensemble and the Weston High School Jazz Ensemble. I started drumming at age 7 after attending a performance by my dad’s band at the Bitter End in downtown New York City. I had been learning the piano at that point for two years already, but after experiencing live music for the first time, I was immediately drawn to the drums. I began taking drum lessons in addition to my regular piano lessons. It was a lot of work, but loved it so much that it almost always felt more like fun. After another year and a half though, I gave up on piano and focused exclusively on drums, as between my ice hockey practices, volunteering activities, and school work, there just wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do. With drumming my passion, this is where I chose to focus my efforts.

For eight years now, I have taken weekly drum lessons, working one-on-one with my drum teacher, who would come to my house every Friday afternoon for a 45-minute lesson. We work hard, learning rudiments, beats, and fills, as well as how to play along to songs by some of my favorite bands with my favorite drummers: Queens of the Stoneage, Green Day, and Soundgarden. And then the pandemic started.

With weekly in-person lessons no longer an option, my drum teacher and I opted to work remotely, like many other people during the pandemic. Using my laptop, we connect each week over FaceTime. The first few lessons were a little awkward, but after a few weeks we settled into a nice groove and found ourselves working productively.  Using my music stand to prop up my phone or my laptop was a big help.  One of the benefits of working online was my music teacher’s ability to share music with me during the lesson. Online lessons require a lot more focus, both from me and from my drum teacher, but the past year has been surprisingly productive, as I’ve improved my drumming considerably and I’ve learned a lot.

Playing in the Weston High School groups this year has also been challenging.  With our class split into two cohorts and many other students opting for full-time distance learning, getting together with the entire groups has been difficult.  But Mr. Fasoli has worked hard to make good use of our time. For Wind Ensemble, we have worked together as a class at limited performance activities, as well as additional online instruction.  Mr. Fasoli also encourages each of the students to continue working hard on their own at their respective instruments.  We’ve also studied various composers and their cultural significance. Despite the challenges of learning during the pandemic, Mr. Fasoli has kept us all motivated and inspired to work hard.

For the Weston Jazz Ensemble, we typically meet after school one night per week, either in person or online. On the evenings we meet in person, we have been able to rehearse together, which has been great!  We’ve worked hard on numerous songs, and we’ve had a lot of fun too.  This has been one of the few opportunities we’ve had all year to feel somewhat normal again.  I am really looking forward to the day when it is safe for all of the students to come back to school to play together. Because of the pandemic, however, we are unlikely to have any end-of-year concerts or competitions this year, which is unfortunate, but we remain focused.

So while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to all students–particularly the musicians–it has not been insurmountable.  The inability to work collaboratively with other student musicians as much as we’d all prefer has undoubtedly been the toughest part, but Mr. Fasoli has encouraged us to stay focused and to continue working hard on our own. Now that more fellow Weston students are set to return to in-school learning, I am optimistic that everyone’s individual efforts over the past year will have paid off and we can start working together again as a true ensemble.

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