WT School of Music Still Humming Through Complicated Times

Chip Chandler Nov 02, 2020
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WT School of Music Still Humming Through Complicated Times

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,


CANYON, Texas — Navigating unusual time signatures and intricate rhythms pale to the difficulties of making music during a pandemic, but West Texas A&M University’s School of Music is finding a way to produce art and educate its students.

Following a few earlier concerts this semester, student musicians next will be featured in a percussion ensemble concert at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3. The Harrington String Quartet, whose members are WT faculty members, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6.

The percussion concert — featuring several socially distanced trios and quartets performing folk, classical and contemporary works — will be livestreamed on the WT School of Music Facebook page.

“It has been a challenge to prepare with quarantines and ice storms, but the students are very excited to get on the stage after we were locked down before our spring concert,” said Dr. Susan Martin Tariq, director of percussion studies.

The HSQ concert — featuring works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Marin Goleminov and Maurice Ravel — also will be livestreamed on the WT School of Music Facebook page.

Both concerts will be archived on the WT School of Music YouTube account.

“Our rehearsal schedule has been limited by the dangers of exposure, and as a result we've had to modify it. Less exposure is key,” said cellist Emmanuel Lopez, Periman Distinguished Artist and Harrington Lecturer in Cello at WT. “We wear masks every time, all the time, and we distance our sitting arrangement to be prudent and safer. However, this distancing and limited contact has made us rehearse more efficiently. We feel that our sense of musical awareness and collective listening have become much more incisive. Our skills have become more acutely honed and the experience more musically satisfying.”

The School of Music has followed recommendations from a number of academic and commercial organizations that conducted research to determine how COVID-19 impacts music-making, said Dr. Robert Hansen, Regents Professor of Music and director of the School of Music.

“The science taught us the increased risks involved and led to the development of best practices,” Hansen said. “Our goal in the School of Music has been to institute all the necessary practices so we could proceed safely with ensemble rehearsals and performances as long as conditions allowed.”

Ordinarily, the semester would have been filled with the sounds of large vocal and instrumental ensembles. Perhaps the most notable absence is the University marching band, which has not performed on the field of any of WT’s football games this season, though a 20-piece pep band has played in the stands, and the University drumline played at halftime of the first game in September.

“Not marching is really rough,” said Dr. Russ Teweleit, associate professor of music and associate director of bands. “There’s no better way to start the year than with early band rehearsals. It’s hard work and long hours, but it bonds us like nothing else.”

Instead, the first weeks of school found students recording special duets, trios and quartets written by Dr. Gary Garner, emeritus WT music professor.

The band still rehearses, too, following recommendations from the College Band Directors Association and National Federation of State High School Associations, Teweleit said. Those include using blowhole masks and bell covers when playing wind instruments, having 6 feet of space around each musician, adding more air filtration units in rehearsal halls, practicing in small groups rather than the full band, and shorter rehearsals with time for several air exchanges before the room is used again.

Similar precautions are taken by the University symphony orchestra, said Dr. Mark Bartley, Lilith Brainard Professor of Music and director of orchestral activities.

“It has been quite a challenge, but the students have displayed exceptional desire and determination to play together and that has helped keep the ensemble directors’ spirits up,” Bartley said.

The orchestra livestreamed a concert featuring works by Florence Price, Peter Boyer, José Pablo Moncayo and Antonín Dvořák on Oct. 18. Due to rights issues, most of the concert could not be archived, but the orchestra’s performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” can be viewed here on YouTube.

The orchestra and University choirs also are rehearsing pieces for the annual University Christmas concert and soon will pre-record them for a broadcast in December on Panhandle PBS.

University choirs have given two livestreamed concerts so far this semester: Sept. 29 and Oct. 15 (the latter can still be viewed here on YouTube).

“The choirs have been meeting in various sizes of groupings and in short periods. We have worn masks and have stood behind specially built partitions. This has shielded the singers from spreading any germs to each other. The choir room is equipped to circulate the air every 30 minutes, so we give the room a break so that can happen,” said Dr. Sean Pullen, associate professor of music and director of choral activities.

As precautions are undertaken, the School of Music also is tracking any positive cases and exposures, suspending or curtailing rehearsals as necessary, Hansen said.

“We’ve been successful, but the downside is that these performances are not being given in front of a live audience, especially now that we are in the red zone, Hansen said. “In normal times, we focus on our mission to provide a large number of public performances along with meeting our educational outcomes. But all in all, we feel we have been as successful as can be expected with the latter, and our students are getting the experience they need.”

Lopez concurred.

“This pandemic has also made us appreciate each other in ways nothing else could,” he said. “We feel so lucky to be able to still bring music to our audiences by streaming and perhaps alleviate some of the stress of current times. We truly appreciate the professional, technical and moral support WT has provided in these tough times.”

A focus on the arts is an important aspect of the University’s long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.


About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. With enrollment of more than 10,000, WT offers 60 undergraduate degree programs, 38 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 15 men’s and women’s athletics programs.