"Of course it was a blow when the course I was so much looking forward to (Small Mixed Chamber Music with Lisa Nelsen, Julian Metzger and Paul Turner) had to be cancelled, but then a few weeks later came the joy of learning that there would be an online version so that there would after all be an opportunity to work with them again, and perhaps absorb something of the Benslow Music course experience.
So on Friday 29 May it was a really good moment when we all “entered the room” on Zoom and saw the tutors and other participants with some familiar faces. I felt quite sad when we left on Sunday afternoon - and no journey home to give time to mull over, digest and come down from the high.
I was impressed by how well the technology held up although it was sometimes frustrating when people ‘froze’ or sound disappeared temporarily even though we were unmuted but everyone bore all of this with patience.
The tutors had given a lot of thought on how to get the best out of the Zoom setup given its limitations of the delay between sound and sight (perhaps this problem of latency is one that will be addressed more urgently by all platforms given the big demand for musicians to play together when distant from each other). There was plenty of variety in the sessions with use of breakout rooms so we could practice in smaller groups. The plenary sessions (although we were using the same method of playing as in the breakout rooms i.e. one unmuted player and the rest playing along at home in silence to the others) seemed to give something more of the feeling as playing as a group as we were still able to see everyone. The general discussion session about the recorded performances we were encouraged to listen to before coming on the course was itself extremely enlightening to learn about professional performers views of what aspects of performance they have to consider. Although it was disappointing not to be able to play with other participants that’s just something that has to be accepted, and the tutors must have been frustrated at not being able to ‘hear’ us in live acoustic.
But the task of playing along with one other player while muted oneself actually opened up a new opportunity – that of learning to listen to an individual line, study the score and see how all the parts fitted together and keep time. This was a real and valuable learning experience which I hope can be transferred in the real life situation when we can play all together, and where the focus is often more about making the ensemble work.
Lisa’s warm-up session also worked very well online. The only thing that was missing and perhaps could be accommodated was an individual session with the appropriate instrument tutor? Especially as this is the format that Zoom can most easily deliver.
I think everyone was pleased to take part and that added to the enjoyment of the course. Some of us did even manage one or two small coffee time chats by entering the ‘room’ during the coffee breaks just like we do at Benslow Music – I took my laptop into a different room to really make that a different experience.
And of course Julian, Lisa and Paul as always are magnificent – patient, practical, insightful. Heartfelt and thankful hugs to them all.
Online courses do work and must be the best way to continue the Benslow Music experience in these strange times, and perhaps might even become a strand of future programming when/if in-person courses become possible again, as potentially it has the ability for Benslow Music to reach a much bigger audience."
Janet Upward (piano)