As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, students and faculty in the departments of music, art, theatre arts and dance have learned to adapt to the challenges that come with hybrid and online classes.
Here are the viewpoints within each department from professors and students about their experiences so far.
Ariel Hernandez, music education voice concentration senior, feels she has not grown as a vocal performer since the Fall 2020 semester started.
“I felt heartbroken because I did kind of lose my passion over the summer,” Hernandez said.
She said taking voice lessons online is not easy, and singing components like posture and breathing cannot be checked properly by a professor online.
“Your teachers need to be able to watch your mouth to make sure your jaw’s not locked,” Hernandez said. “It’s just so complicated because you expect to get a lot of the teachings, but you don’t get to receive them because of this barrier.”
It is difficult trying to get a hang of everything because she doesn’t know what to expect every day, she said. It has been hard to get used to singing with a mask during her ensemble choir class’s in-person sessions.
Despite the difficulty, Hernandez said she is okay wearing her mask to protect herself and others. None of her classmates are opposed to wearing masks because they all want to stay safe while continuing to attend in-person classes.
“We’re very blessed that we get to have our classes in-person right now because if choir wasn’t in person, there’s no point to joining choir,” she said.
With all the changes revolving around the pandemic, Hernandez said that there may be no point to performing in the future, but she tries to think as positively as she can and believes the situation will get better.
Julie Liston Johnson, adjunct assistant professor of voice, said teaching private voice lessons completely online is challenging due to technological limitations.
Johnson works virtually with each student and spends about 15 minutes on vocal exercises to help build their voice and range, and she teaches them the best ways to use their voice. After the exercises, Johnson begins to work with the student on their songs and how to apply those techniques.
“I work with singers that have big voices, and when you sing loud and high the sound cuts out, so as a voice teacher you can’t get as accurate an analysis of what’s going on,” she said.
Transitioning to online teaching forced her to learn computer systems better, Johnson said. It is overwhelming to learn things like downloading videos and setting up virtual lessons, so finding the right platform to be able to transfer music is something she and her students had to catch up on.
Johnson said she initially chose to teach hybrid classes this semester and still hopes to arrange in-person meetings with her voice students, especially the five freshman students that joined her class this semester.
“It looks like maybe one day a week I might be able to come in and at least work with my new students in a bigger space to be able to give them the foundation that they really need,” she said.
Yana Payusova, assistant art professor and painting area coordinator, said the challenge this semester is creating a community-focused atmosphere while teaching hybrid classes so students can develop and grow as artists.
Payusova said her intermediate and advanced painting classes met for the first time Sept. 8 at the Studio Arts Center on campus. Students are split up, with group A meeting on Tuesdays and group B meeting on Thursdays.
“For students who [can’t] be in the classroom, we have weekly check-in meetings over Teams, where I can look at their progress,” Payusova said. “I can give them feedback, I can direct them, and they can ask me questions.”
Students attending classes in the studio space for three-hour sessions are required to wear masks at all times and practice social distancing, she said. One of the most important aspects of studio classes is group critiques, where students can see if their art piece is understood by classmates.
“I think it’s going to feel amazing to be in the space together and having some sense of normalcy being in the studio,” she said.
Painting junior Leonor Ali said she has to find ways to work around her apartment instead of a studio setting after choosing to take her classes online.
She takes advantage of studio spaces at UTA on the weekends when there are fewer people and posts her work to social media for her friends to see.
Having classes creates a routine, but working from home where she’s often alone can be depressing and leads to procrastination, so it can be a battle, she said.
“I am hopeful that this semester will go by well,” she said. “I keep feeling motivated by my peers and what they show.”
J. Austin Eyers, assistant professor and co-area head of musical theatre, said that for his hybrid classes he plans out which students will perform in person and records the session to post online for the rest of his students to watch asynchronously.
Eyers rotates the students he chooses and checks in on them to get feedback for each class. This allows a smaller group of them to get together, he said.
“I think because of how the spring worked out, I was in a much better place for the fall because we had the whole summer to plan,” he said, “The spring was so hard because it was a quick turnaround.”
He is more proactive in this learning environment and sends weekly emails to students reminding them of assignments and important dates. It keeps the class on track, he said.
Eyers said that the part he finds difficult about the pandemic is not being able to interact with his colleagues face-to-face. This fall is Eyers’ first semester at UTA after transferring from Penn State University. He had his UTA orientation online and only met four faculty members in person.
“That [interaction] has been completely absent from my new job, but the nice thing is that students and I are building relationships,” Eyers said.
Musical theatre senior Martina Manguerra said securing the lead in the musical “Spring Awakening,” set to showcase in the spring, changed her perspective and made her more hopeful for the semester.
Manguerra said the audition was virtual, and she submitted a video before the deadline with the help of her three roommates, who are also theatre majors.
She always wears a mask and uses hand sanitizer when attending in-person classes and plans to get tested monthly for COVID-19, she said.
Manguerra gets free testing at a Walgreens located in Fort Worth. The drive-thru testing site provides a self-test packet. She swabs her nostrils with the q-tip and places it in the packet and receives test results a few days later via email.
“I have taken a COVID test every month for the past three months, and I plan to do it every month just for safety reasons,” she said.
She said she copes with the pandemic by attending therapy, journaling and taking breaks from homework to take naps, watch YouTube or listen to music.
“I think the pandemic definitely took a toll on my mind-set, but at the same time, I know that this can’t last forever,” Manguerra said.
Meredith Knight Treminio, assistant professor of instruction, said she and the dance faculty held virtual meetings over the summer on how to approach the fall semester’s limitations.
Knight Treminio scaled back what she usually teaches and reevaluated how to put her class content in an online format.
Her classes meet once a week in person, and larger ones are split, with group A meeting on Tuesdays and group B meeting on Thursdays, Knight Treminio said.
Students can also communicate via phone call, text and Microsoft Teams or view recorded lectures, she said, allowing for more project collaboration.
“I think around the world, artists, especially performing artists are really looking at how to engage in a classroom virtually,” she said.
Wearing masks during rehearsals poses some limitations she said, as students tend to tire themselves quicker than usual and are reminded to take frequent breaks. Students bring jugs of water because fountains around campus are shut off. Students can step outside of the studio and remove their masks if they feel overwhelmed.
The use of touch, which involves coming into close contact with another student, will not be practiced this semester due to the pandemic, she said.
Performance sophomore Maximilian Swenson said his dance class practices waltzing by sharing six-foot poles with classmates in order to learn the motions while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
“It’s become way more about what I’m doing versus what the other person’s doing,” Swenson said. “Dance is also a team thing, especially waltzing, but it’s difficult to have it be a team thing when you’re working with the air.”
While practicing, one person still leads and another follows as if they’re partners, but feet are matched at a distance, Swenson said.
“People in the creative sphere, whether that be dance or theatre or music, will continuously find new ways to adapt to the world around them and keep pushing forward,” he said.