In School of Music

COVID precautions create unexpected benefits for students and faculty

As the days of pandemic restrictions drag on, it can be a challenge to find bright spots amidst the gloom. But positive things are still happening around us — including on the BYU campus. Strains of live music have graced the campus in recent weeks, thanks to several School of Music faculty members who are holding outdoor private lessons. 

Indoor lessons are not currently allowed for any instruments that emit aerosols — this includes winds, brass and voice. While many professors have chosen to hold lessons exclusively over Zoom, some have opted to offer them outside, including clarinet professor Jaren Hinckley and bassoon professor Christian Smith. Among those students given the choice between Zoom or outdoor lessons, all have chosen the outdoor option.

“One of the positive aspects to teaching outside is simply that it is lovely to be in nature,” Hinckley said. “The students seem to enjoy being outdoors too. I actually really love teaching outside and I’m sad that the weather will soon make it untenable.”

Smith agrees. “It’s been invigorating. Who wouldn’t love having a lesson next to the water? I’ve been having my lessons right next to the little stream between the MOA parking lot and Heritage campus housing. It has been a huge blessing to continue teaching in-person.”

Other professors have claimed their own spots around campus. “Voice teacher [and School of Music Director] Diane Reich teaches in the grass circle where the elevated walkway circles around to return to the sidewalk, just south of the parking booth,” Hinckley said. “Our trumpet professor, Jason Bergman, has been teaching further west from me, along the grassy area down towards the traffic light. And I teach under the elevated walkway leading to the Marriott Center, just north of the parking booth leading into the MOA/HFAC parking lot.”

Students also have good things to say about these outdoor experiences. “It makes a huge difference being able to play for your professor in person. It’s easier to hear mistakes or musical nuances when they are listening to you without hindering technology,” said bassoon student Emma Fuller.

“Dr. Hinckley is able to hear and critique so much more in-person than over Zoom,” said clarinet student Mikayla Nance. “There is no reverb outside and the sound is very raw. I have been able to increase in dynamics and style because I want to sound better outside.”

As with any new experience, there are a few drawbacks to outdoor lessons. “We’ve had to rely on pre-planning and web resources,” Hinckley said. “And I’ve had to be more aware of the weather because it’s not good for woodwinds to be outdoors in certain temperatures — too cold and the wood can crack.”

For her part, Fuller admits that she’s not always comfortable with the number of students walking by during her lessons. “It is a bit challenging to play confidently when your professor isn’t the only one listening,” she said.

Once the winter weather takes hold, lessons will have to move inside. But the overwhelmingly positive experience for both students and faculty suggests that outdoor lessons could be here to stay. Hinckley has already expressed his eagerness to return to the outdoors when the weather turns warm again. “I have so enjoyed outdoor lessons,” he said. “Even once COVID restrictions are lifted, I’d love to make it a regular thing in future semesters!”

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