Limited access to campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been a damper for most students for a variety of reasons. Performing arts students are some that have been impacted the most.
To share a glimpse into the life of a student performer who had to go virtual amid these unique Zoom-centered times, Antonio Serrano was able to share some of his experiences and give some insight into those shared by his peers.
Serrano is an aspiring professional opera singer in his fourth year of music classes at Fullerton College. He is currently taking two music courses: concert choir with Nicola Dedmon, a choral assistant professor, as well as the applied program for one-on-one lessons with Aram Barsamian, the director of opera studies at Fullerton College. Concert choir does offer optional in-person meetings occasionally if students feel safe enough to attend.
Zoom is the main method of communication for both of these courses. Serrano shared that in order to avoid noise pollution, the choir does not sing in unison with their microphones on, and Dedmon cannot actively hear their voices in practice.
She instead focuses on the song’s more challenging portions. Choir members eventually will each record themselves separately and then the videos are edited together to create a group effect.
The applied program is scheduled on Saturdays with Serrano receiving a one-on-one for 45 minutes with Barsamian. Due to Zoom calls having much lower sound quality compared to in-person, Serrano recalls spending sessions with less of an emphasis on singing itself and more on studying gestures, vocalizing, expressions or even improving the piece sang at the beginning.
Serrano acknowledged that Fullerton College’s campus-wide laptop and hotspot loaner program is incredibly crucial. He also expressed gratitude to his voice instructor Barsamian for going the extra mile in his assistance and allowing recordings to be sent and reviewing them outside of coaching hours to make up for the difficult situation. The professor has even supplied microphones for those in need.
One of the more difficult aspects of the situation is the lack of social engagement with peers in the same interest group, especially for the newer members who have not yet had the time to get to build relationships, according to Serrano.
“For the newer students, unfortunately, it’s been more difficult to connect with them. In the past, we would see them and be sitting with them all the time. We only have like 10 minutes to talk and get to know each other. She gives us like a opportunity to talk amongst ourselves in a breakout room.”
Another major obstacle for many of these students is the fact that the practice is occurring mostly at home. For some, singing at home is not always an option, Serrano went through times in which practice was absolutely needed, however, conflicting schedules with his father led him to seek another practice location.
“In the beginning, it was really difficult. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like this is a huge unfortunate inconvenience that we would have to deal with that people in the past have not had to deal with it. I felt like we as artists would be inconvenienced and just have to like— we would like to suffer in other ways that are unique to us.” Serrano expressed.
Antonio Serrano has also performed over Zoom since the start of the pandemic. He was selected to participate in the Fall Symposium of The National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) where he had to sing a difficult Mozart aria.
He participated in the NATS Cal-Western Conference, where he performed live in a master class on women composers, and in the NATS Spring Symposium, where he performed a French song. For each of these performances, he had to work with a vocal expert over Zoom and perform to a live Zoom audience.
To Serrano, though, all the struggles are worth the reward.
“I think the experience has been rewarding in certain aspects. We can work on certain things more in detail, like our musicianship and expression. We get to see ourselves in the videos more and because we couldn’t work on techniques so much, we have to focus on those other aspects.” noted Serrano.