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Using Music Learning to Help Our Young People Rebuild Affective Ties
María Guinand, Artistic Director, Fundación Schola Cantorum de Venezuela; Vice President, International Federation for Choral Music
For more than a year, the entire planet has been put to the test by an almost invisible enemy. We still wonder how a microscopic villain can stop the world and make us rethink our lives and our human destiny. We have experienced fear, uncertainty, anguish, and grief. As the pandemic recedes, we know that the planet’s poorer populations will experience the most long-term devastation. But for many months, it has been a pandemic for everyone.
History tells us that human beings are resilient and can recover from devastating wars, genocides, and other kinds of tragedy. We are pretty good at getting up again and trying to learn some lessons. As a lifelong choral teacher and conductor, I feel a great opportunity to make the choir a place not only for singing and creating beauty but also for human and reflective values. This is what motivates me today to resume my activity as a conductor and choral teacher. For my fellow music educators across the world, I would like to share these thoughts.
The pandemic has not been just a biological or epidemiological problem. It has also created enormous disruptions in our social and affective lives. Especially in the spaces of education and social interaction, it has inhibited all the imperceptible links that unite us and that allow us to interact socially. For our children and youth, this has produced reluctance, lack of interest and enthusiasm, and, in some cases, depression. A year of isolation changes people—especially young people—and their perspectives on what is important in life.
This is the reality we will meet, as we return to our classrooms and rehearsal rooms—a reality different from the “normal” one we knew before the pandemic. Of course, we will all want to make music together in a live context, and to achieve excellent results. But I’m certain this will be a slow process. We will need to begin by rebuilding the ties of affection, respect, and consideration for others. More than ever, the process should be a dialogue, a conversation; we need to rediscover ourselves together, recognize one another, and listen to one another. This means being flexible with our goals and patient about getting results.
Young choir members and orchestra members are eager to find themselves next to each other again, singing, playing, and sharing. We must take advantage of this enthusiasm to help them re-establish emotional ties and interpersonal communication through the affective, non-verbal communication of collective musical practice.
In many technical areas, we will have to re-teach, to review and revise concepts and knowledge. Musical skills will have to be awakened little by little. For this, we will need to be creative and look for new tools. We have all spent hundreds of hours motionless in front of screens; now it is time to move together, to experience singing through body movement and the use of eurythmics, to generate physical energy that encourages and injects optimism and helps to overcome the fears that have settled in our hearts during all these months.
It’s important to note that not everything about the pandemic has been negative. On the positive side, we learned to work alone in our homes and to use virtual communication for the educational process. We learned that one-to-one lessons were stimulating for our students and allowed us a more accurate evaluation of their development. We should not discard this practice entirely.
In addition, we have been enriched by the virtual choirs, streaming concerts, and conferences and meetings we have experienced on different platforms. Through these, we have all entered into a new kind of planetary community through which we can be more supportive and compassionate toward other musicians we have discovered all over the world. We should continue to explore and develop these tools.
But our most important task, as choral and instrumental educators, will be to reinvigorate the affective ties between children that will help to lift them out of the depression, fear, and isolation they have experienced so profoundly. Life is continuous learning—sometimes progressive and sometimes sudden. In the coming months, we will all need to be more alert and attentive than ever, so that we can resume our classrooms with great joy, fresh energy, and new ideas that help children and young people learn to love music and make it the best companion of their lives.