Music has a special power to unite our students and our community--even during extraordinarily challenging times.
One of the disciplines most impacted by COVID precautions was music--a perennial strength in the Morris School District, where students typically benefit from dedicated instrumental instruction beginning in 4th grade. But in-person ensembles were not possible for the majority of the school year, so music teachers came up with a range of creative remote alternatives that allowed students to practice their craft and further their music education in entirely new ways, safely at home. David Gallagher, MHS Director of Bands, helped his students view the challenges presented by the pandemic as history-making opportunities: “At the beginning of the school year, I told my students that this would be a year unlike any other. But that along every step of the way, they would be making history. The way they learned, communicated, built relationships, and interacted with music all made history.”
Even the FMS and MHS concerts, which in non-pandemic times draw hundreds of proud families and community members to share our students’ love of music, were translated to a virtual environment for a history-making experience. Through the ingenuity and passions of the middle and high school music directors and student musicians--and thanks to the wonders of modern digital recording software--individual performances were painstakingly pieced together to produce several videos of spirited virtual concerts, featuring the symphonic and jazz bands, orchestras, and choirs.
An added bonus of the video concert format was hearing directly from students who spoke about how important making music with their classmates had been throughout the pandemic in terms of helping them feel uplifted and connected, even if that connection had taken new and different forms. MHS senior Michael Polania Vivas remarked, “From online music classes to performing in front of a camera, we’ve all learned something new through the obstacles we’ve faced … Whether the concert is virtual or not, music can still have the power to bring us together in the most unprecedented times.” Eighth grader Hannah Cohen thanked the Morris Education Foundation for a generous grant that enabled the FMS chorus to purchase a set of handbells, which gave students the opportunity to still create beautiful sound together when they were not able to sing as a group in person. “They are so fun, and it is so meaningful for us to be able to make music together during this time,” Hannah said.
The students’ resilience and ongoing commitment to music is not surprising given the role models they have in a talented and enthusiastic cohort of music educators in the Morris School District. For this year’s annual MEF fundraiser, the MSD music teachers formed a band, “Panic! At the Mayo,” and won the Audience Choice award for their lively collaboration.
Music instruction at the elementary level took place in a virtual format for most of the academic year, but students still had opportunities to apply their performance skills. For example, they learned a sign language accompaniment to the song “What a Wonderful World,” as well as the “Cups” rhythm featured by actress Anna Kendrick in the film Pitch Perfect.
Finally, in May, Morristown High School welcomed audiences to the Spring Concert--the District’s first in-person concert since December, 2019. Families brought blankets and lawn chairs to the school’s practice field to enjoy live music by the MHS symphonic band, jazz ensemble, and wind symphony. It was a testament not only to our students’ musical feats but to their enduring strength and spirit throughout this historic year.