This article is part of a new series called Clarinet in the Time of COVID that aims to help clarinetists find the most recent and important information regarding the evolution of our field as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. If you have information that you would like to share as a part of this series please contact Jenny Maclay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Interview with Julianne Kirk Doyle
Interview conducted by Joe Sferra
JS: Hi Everyone, I’m Joe Sferra, I’m a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory at The Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam. I’m also a clarinetist and a member of ICA, and I’m here with Dr. Julianne Kirk Doyle, she’s a professor of clarinet at the Crane School of Music and is recently the New York State Chair of ICA as well, and we’re going to talk about running a clarinet studio during Covid-19, lessons we’ve learned from the spring, and then what’s on the horizon. So, how are you doing Julianne?
JKD: Doing alright, you know? Adjusting.
JS: Tell me a bit about your studio at Crane. How many students do you have and what sort of performance expectations do have for them during their time at Crane?
JKD: We have primarily undergraduate students and it’s a mix often of music education, music business, bachelor of arts. We have a number of performance majors, but they often double in another area. We rarely just have straight performance majors. This last semester, I had around 24 students and my colleague had 22. In the fall, we’re projecting 52 students total and we’re still working to balance those loads. I may end up teaching between 25 and 27 of those students. If we are remote, I’m looking for a little more flexibility, so my colleague may take on a few more classes, and I will do more studio teaching. We often have a balance of at least 22 to 25 students apiece.
JS: We got the word that we were pivoting to online instruction during our spring break, which was in mid-March. What sorts of things were going through your mind when you got the word, other than “Aaaaah!”
JKD: A lot of it was, “How are we going to do this?” We got the charge, and so I started immediately doing online research, what platform are we going to use? How is this going to work? I actually attended a Zoom webinar on something completely outside of music just to watch how it worked. And I thought, “Okay, I kinda get this.” I had no interest in the subject matter being done, but they had 700 or so people on the call, and I think everybody was doing the same kind of thing, just checking out Zoom. So I thought, “Okay, I can make this work.” My clarinet colleague, who’s a former student of mine, and I did some practice calls through Microsoft Teams to practice the audio: “Okay, what does this sound like when I play?” “What does this sound like when I use this microphone?” “I’m going use my speaker,” “I’m going to use my headphones,” and we just kept exploring what was the best option so we could recommend things to our students.
JS: What did you do about recitals?
JKD: Of course, the big question: “How are recitals going to work?” We had a couple that could defer and maybe do it in the fall if we’re in person, but we had a couple that were seniors, one earning a performance certificate, the other a performance major. They needed to do these to have those capstones at the end of their degree. We finally decided after a few conversations with students. We had an initial recital date that was much earlier: we pushed it later so that they had a little more time to change their programs up, because many had some chamber pieces. We changed their rep to more unaccompanied pieces and they did not play with piano. They both did a live-streamed recital through Facebook. We did practice calls the week of, they actually ran their recitals, we checked lighting and everything, and just made sure everything was set up. And they had great broadcasts for their recitals! We were able to make that happen, and of course it’s not the same, but they had family in the room to applaud for them. They actually felt like they were getting some feedback- of course, everyone knows you can input comments in Facebook as a stream is going. Both didn’t have any technical difficulties, the sound was really good, there was no lag: we had spent a lot of time practicing that and just being sure, you know.
We practiced in Zoom calls for lessons, too. If someone was having a lag, we went through the steps: “Go to your settings, let’s take this off, make sure this is set this way, turn off all your other apps.” We’d get close. It was difficult for students who did not have a good internet connection or did not have a good external microphone. What we would do is I would have those students pre-record their lesson material, send a YouTube link, and then I would screen-share and we would watch their performance together in their lesson. I had my iPad Pro right next to me with .pdfs of all of their music.
That’s one the things I did when we found out! Immediately, I ran to my office, I grabbed a stack of music, and I started scanning. I think you might have walked into the copy room while I was doing that.
JKD: I had everything on my iPad, and so what I was able to do was, in ForScore, when a student was playing a piece, I could make markings on the .pdf, take a screenshot, send it to the student with my notes, then we would go over them. I could then clear the screenshot, and if it’s a piece another student was playing, I could do that process again. That was my process.
JS: What was your balance of synchronous and asynchronous work like with your students?
JKD: We did everything synchronously. Studio class met synchronously, and I would have, say, 90 to 100% turnout every studio. Everybody sent in pre-recorded performances that we would watch live.
That reminds me of another thing I did right when we found out about going online! We went to Walmart and purchased a second TV screen. So I had a 24-inch screen that I’m looking at, we ordered a webcam and an external microphone, so I had a nice setup. I’ve got my laptop where I can make comments and do screen-sharing, and I can see the student or the class in the large monitor. Having that extra bit of screen real estate really made a difference. When I did the screen-share for studio class, I would show them a video of the student performing and a .pdf of the piece. That way, we could make really informed and specific comments. The students would do their comments in real time in a Google doc that everybody has access to. It was pretty involved. The students were actually very helpful. They made the suggestion of the Google doc and I thought that worked out really well.
JS: You brought up something that I’ve run into in electronic music classes from a composer’s or performer’s perspective. These elements of technology, we have to practice them in the same way that we practice our instrument. We have to do these dry runs with our friends before we do these performances. In a way, these technologies are an extension of the instrument.
JKD: Yes, absolutely. We have to do so much to get good sound quality! “You’re too close to the microphone, you’re too far away,” You want to get that perfect balance. For so many of the students, even if they were on a cell phone for their lesson, which was not ideal, but it worked, they needed to get four or five feet away. Many had the IQ7 which attaches right to the iPhone, and we had to keep messing with levels. “If you’re far away, turn it up to 6, but if you’re that close, turn it down to a 2!” We had to experiment with that based on the space the students were playing in.
JS: How did you conduct juries?
JKD: We had to figure out juries as well as what we call “levels” which are barrier exams for the degree. I had 7 students taking their Level A barrier exam this semester. Typically what the faculty hear is a solo with piano, parts of two etudes, major scales, melodic and harmonic minor scales, and they have to sight-read. That’s the typical “A” when we’re in person. So, we thought, “Well, we can’t do all of that remotely. How are we going to do this?” We had them pre-record their two etudes in their entirety. They could do a separate take for each etude, but each take had to be continuous. And then, they had to record all of their scales in one continuous take.
JKD: It’s quite a thing! You could certainly tell the students who really knew their scales and the ones who were kinda on the… But I felt they all really rose up. The fact that they had to record, and reckon, and “look in the mirror”, so to speak, auditorily: “Oh, that’s what I sound like? No, I could do that better.” I had students submitting recordings to me for a lesson, and they would send the wrong one: they’re playing an etude, and they stop and say, “I could play that better,” and they turn off the recorder! So, I saw a huge improvement in my students because they were constantly recording and evaluating themselves.
The performance faculty sat down and decided: “Let’s split this thing. Hopefully we can be in person in the fall. So, let’s hear the etudes and the scales since that’s something they do solo, and then we’ll hear the piece with the piano, hopefully, in the fall. If we’re remote, we’ll figure that out.” I watched a concert yesterday: Colorado College Summer Music Festival broadcasted a concert where they had shields up for the wind players, the pianist and string players had masks on, and that’s what we’re envisioning, hopefully, we can do in the fall for their levels. We’re hoping to do those early in October. If we’re back in late August, that gives them some time to meet with the pianist and rehearse. But they already have their pieces down- they were working on them all spring! I told my students: “Okay, after you’ve finished all this other recording, record your piece then put it away for two months. Don’t look at it. Then, pull it back out in August and refresh while using that recording as a reference.” Those are some of the ways that we’ve combatted, I suppose you could say, the technology.
JS: What did you do to help students who had internet issues?
JKD: It was tough when the kids didn’t have a good internet connection. You’d do your best and say: “After we get done, if you could just go on and make a recording, send it along, and then I’ll send you some written feedback, I’m just not getting a good sense of what you’re sounding like today.” And they’d do it, and then we’d have a dialogue going back and forth throughout the week.
JS: What about cultivating a sense of community with the studio? How did you work to overcome the distance and how did the students respond to these kinds of efforts?
JKD: Every week when we would meet all together for studio, a lot of the students would comment: “This is my favorite part of the week.” I’d get to see everybody, and we’d spend the first few minutes of studio just catching up. Then we’d get down to business, and maybe the class would last 30 or 40 minutes, and then a little follow-up and “Have a good week!”
Another thing my colleague and I did was “Feature Friday”. Starting in early April, we started interviewing clarinetists we knew around the country and alumni. We started with Shari Hoffman, who is in NYC and does a lot of freelancing. Then, we went to Joel Levy, an alumnus and music educator on Long Island. Then we had Allie Bach from WAM (Women’s Audio Mission) out in LA. We were trying to hit all aspects of what our students would be studying. We had Eric Abramovitz from the Toronto Symphony, we had Patti DiLutis from the Buffalo Philharmonic. We had Kristen Denny-Chambers, who is a private teacher and composer down in Oklahoma. She’s an old friend of mine. We had a wide cross-section of people. So, every Friday, we would get together at the same time as studio and just, you know, talk to somebody! We would start with some scripted questions, then the students were able to ask questions and communicate with the artists. It gave them this feeling of, “Okay, there’s something else out there other than practicing and being by myself.” That helped. We had a Facebook group what we’ve constantly kept going, we also have an Instagram group. The students are involved socially in that way. They were all putting up videos of themselves practicing and asking for feedback, and everyone would comment and give them advice. It was just this constant flurry of activity throughout the week. It didn’t feel like we were alone. We were still a community like we are when we’re at Crane. Obviously, we were in our separate places, but again, that comment about studio class comes back, “This is my favorite part of the week.”
JS: How would you assess yourself in terms of how you responded to the changes that had to happen in the spring semester? What other classes did you have to change?
JKD: Well, I feel like I did the best I could. One of my classes was a clarinet techniques class for music education majors who are going to go out and teach kids how to play the clarinet in public schools. We had six weeks of instruction with the instruments before we went remote. I had two classes with about 26 students between the two, and half of them had instruments when we went remote. Half of them did not. How do you teach them how to teach an instrument when they don’t have one to physically feel?!
We ended up using a combination of Moodle and Microsoft Teams- I felt teams was a little more user-friendly. I recorded playing activities and put the music there so students could access it. I didn’t ask them to submit any playing for feedback, in hindsight, maybe I should have. It was more like, “Hey, it’s there. If you want to do it, do it.” I met with the class each week synchronously and we did an array of things: we talked about instrument repair, listening to great players, talking about what we hear and what we need to listen for. We looked at teaching videos from pedagogues all over the country. I said, “These would be great examples for you to put keep in a folder, so when you start teaching clarinet, you’ve got all the quick hits and fundamentals you need to keep in mind.” That filled, pretty much, the rest of the semester.
I gave my first online midterm exam. I used Microsoft Forms, which I thought worked really well. I put in a “What’s Wrong With Me?” section where I recorded myself doing several things incorrectly, and the students had to write an essay about what I was doing incorrectly. And they all pretty much nailed it!
For the final, if they had an instrument, they could record an educational video that they could present to their students. From assembly to getting first notes, or they could focus on another topic. We have clarinet majors in the class- even if you play the instrument, do you really know how to teach it? They had a lengthier assignment where they had to incorporate more advanced stuff. If they didn’t have an instrument, then they needed to review online teaching videos. You can just go to YouTube and search anything. I gave them an array of videos, and some of them are not quite as helpful as others. How is this presentation going to be for a fourth grader? Are you going to lose them in 30 seconds? How do you keep them on the video? You have to be concise- it has to be short- two to five minutes. You have to think about constantly changing activities vs. drawing it out, because you’ll lose the younger kids. We talked a lot about how to teach and how to keep your students engaged. While I talk about that when I see the students in person, I do tend to focus the class more on getting them to an intermediate level of playing. We talked more on the philosophical side of teaching and how-to. I told them all: “When we’re back and we’re back to normal and if you’re still at Crane, come audit Clarinet Tech and sit in for the last half of the semester, that’s fine. If you want to join the clarinet choir, join clarinet choir!” just to get some playing on the clarinet so you feel what it’s like. I think we’re going to see that from a lot of students who had to be remote for tech classes- they’re going to want a little more experience on the instrument.
In terms of rating myself, I feel like I did the best I could with what tools I had and the tools my students had. In hindsight, I think about things I could have done differently, and if we’re remote again, I have some more ideas.
JS: Is there anything you did differently this spring that if, for instance, we were in-person in the Fall, you would still incorporate into how you run your studio now?
JKD: I think so. I liked using Teams to put up videos for the students to watch each week. The “Feature Friday” idea: I really loved that, that each week we were talking to somebody not in our little Crane bubble. Whether it be remotely, or if we’re in-person in a big classroom we can project it up on the screen. We can’t bring in everybody for a masterclass, but maybe can have a conversation with them. That, I think, was really helpful for the students, finding some way to do more across the internet.
I liked writing things on scores in my iPad and sending them a .pdf of all of my markings. I usually do that in lessons, but I don’t actually give them my notes unless we’re getting really close to a recital or a jury performance. To actually physically write them in the score and give them a copy of that so they can add certain notes into their part was really helpful.
The recording and reviewing! Having my students make a recording each week- at least record one piece and write a sum-up: “Okay, I could do this better.” Getting them to really journal about their practice and their preparation. I think they really had to be honest about what they were doing. I think during the regular academic year they’re more like, “Uhh, I’ll touch all my stuff, I’ll read it top to bottom,” even though we talk to them about how to practice! We all do it. We slough through it sometimes. Teaching them to be more mindful in their preparation, and to really take it slow. Focus on a couple of lines and really getting it well and under their fingers, and recording that. “This week, you are to record the first eight bars of this etude at this tempo.” And so, what’s your process to get there? Having little assignments like that.
The usage of technology- really asking the students to utilize it. I do it all the time. I say, “You’ve got access to YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, all this stuff.” Listen to your music! Record and listen to yourself! And they really don’t take it as seriously as they could. The ones that do really progress, and I saw that across the board from all the students this semester. I saw more progression than we would have if we were face-to-face. We’ve just got to utilize the technology more.
JS: What are you doing differently this summer?
JKD: Something I started this summer, while we’ve only met once, is “Articulation Club”. Many of the students feel their articulation isn’t what it should be.
JS: I’m there with them!
JKD: It’s one of the hardest things to learn, and one of the hardest things to teach! On our first day, we just talked about how the air works, how the mechanism of the tongue works and where it needs to be. Some of the students were like, “Ooh, I don’t do that!”. We’ve talked about it in lessons, we’ve talked about it in studio, but just continuing to reiterate it. The summer is really the time to focus things.
Another thing I’m doing is preparing and directing our virtual Crane Youth Music Camp. What that is is typically a two-week camp where students in middle school through high school play in an ensemble, have daily masterclasses with the faculty, take electives, and we have evening concerts every night. Obviously we had to cancel it because of Covid.
So, I’ve been spending a lot of time reaching out to faculty and figuring out what we can do. We can’t offer a masterclass every day, but what if each instrument had one masterclass, maybe two if the faculty member was willing, and then we have an elective sampling throughout. That’s what I’ve been coordinating. I’m typically coordinating a lot of “bigger picture” items for CYM and that takes the front of my summer away. It’s still work to put the virtual version together. I’m looking at things that other camps are doing and getting a lot of ideas, and again, thinking: “We could do some stuff like this during the academic year!” It’s also making me rethink the formatting of the camp schedule. We’re trying to give more electives, and we’re also thinking about where the concert hour is. For a younger kid, we’re putting the concert at 3 o’clock in the afternoon instead of 7 o’clock at night. Many times, the students are falling asleep at concerts, and the concerts go too long, so we’re looking at little “snippets” of ideas.
For the rest of the summer, once that’s all put together, my daughter’s a girl scout and I’m helping lead her troop, and we’re figuring out what we’re going to do the rest of the summer. Depends on if we can be together or remotely. That’s been a fun side project, a way for me to have a hobby: looking at STEM activities, incorporating some art and music in as much as I can. It’s been fun. Then, getting back in shape! My summer will be figuring out how to play the clarinet again. I’ve been getting through a good warm-up, some things like that. Not having anything to prepare for is tough, like, “Well, I’ll work on this piece today…” but I’m not consistently looking at something.
JS: It’s hard to— it reminds of grad school a little bit, in that the structure is almost entirely self-imposed. There are some vague expectations: “Six months down the line you have some big paper or some big test,” but really, the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, is entirely on you.
JKD: Yes, one thing I thought about right at the front of it was “Oh, I just gave this recital, I’m gonna lay it all down and make a recording!” I talked to the recording engineer and he said, “Oh yeah, we can figure that out.” And then it was like, “Oh, we can’t be in proximity of each other til at least July.” So now I’ve got to get the rep back in shape if I’m going to do that. I may start doing little concerts on my porch once the weather cools off a little bit. My neighbors always love when I play outside, so I think I’ll put together a lot of unaccompanied stuff and play on the porch, but I haven’t done that yet! I have a neighbor who’s an oboist, one of my colleagues who’s a saxophonist lives just down the street. Maybe at some point, we’ll put something together. Lonel Woods, who’s one of our voice faculty, is just around the corner now. We’ve got a nice little faculty contingent on our street, so maybe some sort of distanced program at some point, that would be fun.
JS: Yeah, very cool!
JKD: I know a lot of people are doing driveway concerts, garage concerts, things like that. Maybe at some point during the summer that’d be fun.
JS: This situation has been difficult and we’ve had to rethink a lot of things, but I think some good things are coming from it.
JS: Thanks so much for speaking with me today, and good luck with the rest of the summer and this coming school year!
JKD: Thank you, you too!