On March 15, a group of socially-distanced students sitting in hula hoops gathered on the upper school lawn to watch the first live music performance at Nueva since March of 2020. While campus might have been quiet over the past year, the music never stopped playing—thanks to the adaptability and flexibility of our students and music teachers, Jason Muscat and Jim Munzenrider.
Heading into last spring, big plans were underway for a sold-out concert at SFJAZZ Center featuring calypso legend, David Rudder, and nearly 80 Nueva steel drum players representing all three divisions.
Students had put in countless hours of practice time in preparation, traveled to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia to immerse themselves in the music and culture, and were ready to shine brightly on one of the Bay Area’s biggest stages when the world went into lockdown.
After working through the disappointment of the cancelation, Jim pivoted and led his students in a deep virtual exploration of calypso music and its cultural significance with David Rudder and a number of the other guest speakers. The concert with David Rudder has now been rescheduled for December 12, 2021 (so mark your calendars!)
As with so many aspects of the past year, going remote presented a challenge for the music program team. It also provided great potential for change, revision, and reinvention of the approach to teaching and learning. The music program at Nueva, beyond just the steel drum bands, has been no exception.
“We were able to make lemonade out of lemons in a way that will have a lasting impact on how I teach, perform, and understand this music moving forward,” Jim said. “The constraints we were working with allowed me to work one-on-one with students, developing some drum techniques and skills that were harder to focus on when we work as an ensemble.”
Drawing on a newfound and evolving understanding of virtual recording, Jim and Jason led the upper school bands in the recording of more than 20 jazz standards—well-known and important compositions—during the past year. Using online recording tools, they laid the foundational drum and bass tracks for student-musicians to build upon from home. The upper school Groove Workshop and jazz bands pioneered this practice in the spring, and middle school classes and bands followed in the fall.
“The technology we have access to is remarkable and the students have learned so much,” Jason said. “We will definitely continue to explore the possibilities with digital recording as we return to the classroom. It’s important for musicians to understand how to create in an increasingly digital world. It is so inspiring to watch our students take an imperfect situation and create wonderful things.”
For more than a decade, one of the main goals of Nueva’s middle school music program has been to bring everyone into the musical discussion—from Menuhin-Dowling performers to students who have never picked up an instrument before. Going remote presented a foundational challenge to this approach and required a reimagining of the entire curriculum. The challenge has produced a meaningful and lasting change.
“The pandemic required us to make a 180-degree shift from live music instruction to something new.” Jim explained. “With our sixth-grade music classes, we were still faced with the challenge of reaching kids who have never played music. Jason and I discovered an online music theory program that is game-based and includes skills related to mixing and recording. Using a variety of software, we are able to bring more students and skill sets into the fold. Recording used to be the end game, and now it can be part of the process from the beginning.”
As it has for so many members of our community, the past year has provided the opportunity for Jim and Jason to reflect upon how they work with and educate students.
“I'm grateful for learning so much more about music production, video editing, sound mixing, and sound editing,” shared Jason. “I will come back to campus with a much broader skill set which will have a positive impact on my classes and the way I teach.”