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Pandemic Innovations String Together Music Students and Kids From College Park and Across the Globe

December 21, 2020 School of Music

 Collage of string students from around the globe.

SOM professors Irina Muresanu and Eric Kutz transform string pedagogy class through partnerships with Prince George’s County Public Schools and Musicians for the World.

By Kathryn Hougham

Nine violins, three violas and three cellos. The purchase of these instruments established a new library of string instruments, which enabled University of Maryland School of Music (SOM) students to teach music lessons to local Prince George’s County students.

A requirement for string majors, “Seminar in Music Pedagogy” is an in-depth, string-centered course that teaches students how to instruct. Until this year, the class had been purely theoretical. Professors Irina Muresanu and Eric Kutz saw the opportunity to integrate a “teaching practicum” component. But due to the pandemic, in-person lessons were impossible. Muresanu and Kutz reached out to Lionel Harrell, supervisor for instrumental music instruction at Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), to see how they could connect SOM students with PGCPS students for virtual, private lessons. They also faced a daunting hurdle: since PGCPS classes were online, some students did not have access to instruments.

Thanks to a UMD Teaching Innovation Grant and their own personal donations, Muresanu and Kutz purchased the instrument library for the SOM to loan out to PGCPS students and provide for a mutual education.

“The grant made the ‘teaching practicum’ possible” said Muresanu. “Every music major student in the class worked with a beginner and an intermediate student throughout the semester, learning how to teach strings and acquiring this important component of their education, even during these challenging times.”

For many local kids, this was their first experience having private music instruction. “These relationships are invaluable because I feel that SOM is creating avenues of future employment for its music majors, as well as providing free private lessons for local students who may not be able to afford them,” said violinist Sarah Kim ’21.

The class provided many performance majors with their first opportunity to give private teaching lessons. Cellist Samuel Lam ’21 shared that despite the challenges of online teaching, he learned a great deal from the experience and especially appreciated the ability to record the online lessons and share them with his professors and classmates for feedback.

“Teaching online has made me more aware of how I articulate my thoughts, simply because often my speech carries more weight online than my visual demonstrations or my playing,” said Lam. He anticipates that the skills learned through student teaching virtually will serve him well in a post-COVID-19 educational environment.

The SOM pedagogy students also had the chance to teach string players from Haiti, Peru, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago, through Musicians for the World, a nonprofit organization that provides virtual music education to vulnerable communities overseas.

Despite the time zone differences and occasional language challenges, Muresanu observed that new innovations emerged from these obstacles and that the normalization of online lessons built a pathway for further development of training in faraway communities. This gave SOM students the freedom to teach beyond traditional borders and across cultures.

“This course will never be the same,” Muresanu said. “The greatest obstacle in the past was the logistical challenge of student teaching, but now we’ve found a solution that enables us to serve emerging musicians in College Park and across the world!”