When Berkeley High School (BHS) students selected their courses for the 2020-21 school year back in the spring of 2020, they had no idea what they were in for. Of all courses this year, performing arts classes have possibly undergone the biggest transformations. In usual circumstances, these classes are centered around physical interactions and collaboration. This spring, the end of year performances and events for these classes are more unique than ever.
“This year, since we had the whole class online, instead of choreographing dances and putting them on stage, we individually made digital dance films,” said Sasha Alley, a senior at BHS and member of Dance Production (DP), an audition based dance elective at BHS. “We directed them, filmed them, edited them, all ourselves. We worked on those pretty much the whole entire year,” Alley continued.
On April 23, DP hosted an online showcase where the short films of student-choreographed dances were streamed with a subsequent Q&A session. “It was a little disappointing that we couldn’t be together because my favorite part of DP is performing with a bunch of different people on a stage,” Alley explained. Despite this, the online medium provided opportunities for different settings and filmmaking styles. Many dancers set their choreography in outdoor locations, while others utilized their own bedrooms.
Other dance classes have also had opportunities to choreograph individually in different settings, though DP is the only one that publicly showcased the dances. “This term we were focusing on jazz and musical theater,” said Linda Carr, who is a BHS dance teacher for Beginning Modern/Jazz Dance and Advanced Dance Lab. “The students are making mostly solos to a musical theater piece, and for the final term we are spending time sharing the videos in smaller groupings,” she continued. Given the online circumstances, Carr hopes and believes that her students still enjoyed the engagement through the online class.
For music classes, virtual performances have been more difficult to adapt to. “We tried to put together a YouTube compilation of everyone playing their parts individually, but it sounded really weird,” explained Laurel Fink, a saxophone player for the BHS Jazz Ensemble.
Many student musicians observed that online platforms, such as BandLab, aren’t capable of syncing complex tempos and rhythmic patterns. On BandLab, students can layer individual recordings to simulate a collaborative piece, but “there are only so many tracks that you can put on it without it sounding super laggy,” said Annelise Schouten, a violin player in Chamber Orchestra.
Despite such challenges, music classes have found ways to utilize the virtual setting in their favor. In jazz classes this year, students spent class time focusing on jazz history. “We’ve been studying the intersection of jazz history and Black history, because obviously jazz history is Black history. It’s really fun and essential for every jazz musician to know and learn about,” said Fink.
Recently, the Jazz Ensemble has also had the opportunity to meet in-person in order to prepare for finals. “It’s nice to get back to things that we think are more normal,” Fink commented.
As the school year comes to a close, it is obvious that performing arts classes this year had to adapt to the online circumstances in highly creative ways — some successful, and some less so. Regardless, it was a learning experience for students and teachers alike.