June 14, 2020

Arts educators get creative amidst school closures due to COVID-19 pandemic

Arts educators get creative amidst school closures due to COVID-19 pandemic
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By Nina Yu

With the COVID-19 pandemic slowly spreading its way around Utah, thousands of students have been forced to take classes online, including outside extracurricular activities. While doing everything online may be a struggle in some ways, music students at Salty Cricket are taking full advantage of this opportunity.

The Salty Cricket Composers Collective is a nonprofit organization that provides musical education for K-12 youths at Wallace Stegner Academy Charter School in the Glendale neighborhood of Salt Lake City.  Instructors and faculty members strive to enrich students’ lives through music.

Their notable after-school music program, El Sistema@Salty Cricket is based on the internationally renown model. El Sistema is a publicly funded music education program, founded in Venezuela. Founder José Antonio Abreu said that music “transmits the highest values – solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion.” Similar to the international model, El Sistema@Salty Cricket seeks to promote a positive social change through music and to help kids claim their role in the culture.

“[The program] is an aggregate of guiding principles,” said Executive Director Victoria Petro-Eschler. “Unlike the usual curriculum for music students, our implementations are highly customized to whatever population we’re dealing with. In our school, we have a lot of families recently immigrated from Central America, so we have mariachi offered.”

However, the immersive music program is fully orchestral and provides students with free music theory, instrument, and orchestra practice. There are also additional activities included to support the engagement levels.

With everything operating online, Salty Cricket faculty and students took this as the perfect opportunity to collaborate with other musical students across the nation. Last week, Salty Cricket was joined by New Jersey’s Trenton Music Makers and The Collective Conservatory for a week-long workshop.

“In some ways, going online eliminates more boundaries,” Petro-Eschler said. “In a video call, it doesn’t matter if I’m talking to a Utah kid or New Jersey kid. The whole El Sistema network is open for communication.”

Collective Conservatory’s Founder and Creative Director Daniel Trahey has assisted the students at Salty Cricket to make connections to musical professionals who are willing to be mentors.

Before the start of the workshop, Petro-Eschler, Trahey, and the New Jersey program leader would log on and assess the stressors and limitations for each of their students. For 90 minutes each day for five days, Trahey’s program would start with mindfulness, go into assigned music-making scenarios, break out into groups with their teaching artists, get back together, record it, and email it to The Collective Conservatory’s Music Director, Pete Tashjian. The next day, Tashjian would have integrated all the pieces so students could hear the song that they created.

“The first wave of our mission is to provide social things such as music and athletics online, as those are hard to access right now.” Trahey said. “The second wave is to create dynamic programs for people that can’t get to education centers due to many factors. We want to connect communities.”

During the week’s workshop, Trahey hired teaching artists to teach and guide Salty Cricket students during their breakout sessions. Realizing that health and wellness are extremely important right now, his team incorporated mindfulness, deep breathing, mental, and physical exercises before each 90-minute session.

The final goal of the workshop was to compose a brand-new piece of music. Salty Cricket students and Trenton Music Makers came up with themes, decided what kind of music they wanted to make, and which direction they wanted to take the piece. Trahey encouraged them to take authentic sounds from their everyday environment and conceptualize the sounds into music that would be meaningful to the individual students.

After a week of hard work, the students from Salty Cricket and Trenton Music Makers performed their piece over Zoom meeting.