GSA instrumental music students persevere under a situation that has them playing from home
By Gracie Vanover | Arts Bureau Edge Reporter
Floyd Central High School, Class of 2020
As the clock flashed at 1 p.m., instrumental music students, like rising Hopkinsville High School rising senior and euphonium player Jared Chance-Martin, logged on to Zoom for their virtual lessons. No student expected to attend the 2020 Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts this way. Regardless, they were still ready to learn.
Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts students in a session. Courtesy Kentucky Performing Arts.
Instrumental music students from across Kentucky were part of a GSA program grounded in classical music in which they took part in master and theory classes to improve their abilities. Although this year provided challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many students and teachers said this did not discourage them.
GSA’s instrumental music program includes both band and orchestra players as well as piano. Most students do not come from solid classical music backgrounds — as many schools teach music from all genres whether it be in a marching band or symphony orchestra.
On the teaching end of GSA, there was a little struggle to adjust, but that did not disrupt the masterclasses.
Masterclass teacher Vince DiMartino was one of the teachers who had to shift instruction. DiMartino, whose focus in the instrumental program was on brass instruments, let his students choose solo pieces and critiqued their playing.
“I really did not have to change what I [was teaching], just how I did it,” he said. “The only difference, but important, was I could not see the facial expressions of the whole group at once and interact with group synergy. This just does not happen online.”
Students said they were worried GSA would be a let-down, but they were graciously surprised when it was more than they hoped for.
Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts’ Chair for Instrumental Music and Dean of Faculty Richard Byrd teaching a music theory class. Courtesy Kentucky Performing Arts.
“I was heartbroken to hear that [GSA] would be taking place virtually, rather than in person. At the time, it seemed so weird to have an artists' program virtually,” said rising South Laurel High School rising senior and oboe player Jakob Combs. “Well, these past three weeks, I have been shown more artistry than I’ve ever seen in my life. I have been taught that artists are resilient and crucial in times such as these. I have been taught that my art is important, and it can and will influence others.”
DiMartino said he hoped GSA would benefit students musically as well as emotionally.
“Hopefully, [I left them with] an emotional journey that I was leading them through with my piece — also, an appreciation of what visual arts, literature and dance do that relates to the expression we hear in music,” he said. “Being an audience [member] helps each individual to define his or her own emotions and relationship to their artistic presentation.”
GSA also provided students with advice on how to improve and receive important feedback for their future careers and even help with normal performance anxieties.
“GSA will benefit me in the future because I’ll be more prepared to speak and perform in front of many people,” said rising senior and flute player Maire Birdwell, who attends Lafayette Senior High School. “Before GSA, I had extreme performance anxiety. But during the program, being able to perform a lot more and being given lots of appreciation made me feel better about myself and my playing.”
The passion faculty exuded for teaching music also inspired students.
“[It’s] unbelievable. Really. It’s just crazy how I can feel so much passion from just a few people,” said Chance-Martin. “I mean it was very clear throughout the whole program how much they cared about not only our educations but our future as people and musicians.”
Doug Drewek, Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts instrumental music faculty member, coached the jazz band class for instrumental music students.
Even without the in-person exposure, students found this year’s GSA to be what they hoped for.
“I would have [liked to be] able to be surrounded physically by Kentucky’s greatest artists and perform live,” said Combs. “However, I wouldn’t have wanted this year’s experience in any other way. My fellow instrumental music students and I — outside of studio times — were able to bond over our devices like no other.”
Gracie Vanover, a 2020 graduate of Floyd Central High School, is entering her freshman year at Indiana University Southeast, where she will study journalism. At Floyd Central, she served as Editor-in-Chief and Assistant A&E Editor of The Bagpiper, and a producer at WNAS and FCTV. During high school, she also was a Highlander Marching Band member and in concert and pep band. (She played clarinet, bass clarinet and alto saxophone.) Vanover has participated in four other Arts Bureau Edge workshops.