Frost adapts music instruction to orchestrate safeguards

Tina Dimeglio Vafiadis, 3rd year DMA student, conducts a piece for the "Frost Bands in the Age of Covid" Livestream concert. 
By Amanda M. Perez

Tina Dimeglio Vafiadis, 3rd year DMA student, conducts a piece for the "Frost Bands in the Age of Covid" Livestream concert. 

Frost adapts music instruction to orchestrate safeguards

By Amanda M. Perez
The school of music is working proactively to provide a safe and productive semester for its students and faculty members.

The world of education has been reimagined at the Frost School of Music. From socially distanced classroom spaces to customized masks for instruments, the pandemic has compelled the music community to get creative to accommodate safety and health precautions. 

“Believe it or not, you can play a trumpet and many wind instruments while wearing a mask,” explained Shelly Berg, dean of the University of Miami Frost School of Music. “The pandemic has devastated the music and performance industry unlike any other sector of the economy, and we felt that this was a critical time for these future musicians to continue to develop and flourish, so we made it our mission to create a campus atmosphere they trusted and felt comfortable returning to.”

Frost’s faculty and staff members have worked tirelessly to continue providing a safe and stimulating environment for everyone on campus. Although the pandemic has created significant obstacles, Serona Elton, associate dean of administration, stated that Frost has endured this semester because of the resilience and adaptability the students, faculty, and staff have displayed. 

“We are such an interconnected community, where everyone has had to play their part in making this a success,” said Elton. “The school leadership developed the special music-related protocols, based on the recommendations of several leading studies, but it’s taken everyone at Frost to commit to following them to make this semester work. Everyone’s hard work should be acknowledged.” 

Kyle Elgarten, a graduate teaching assistant and orchestra conducting student, was pleasantly surprised at how Frost was so quick to adapt to the significant hurdles the school has had to overcome to continue to provide a safe environment. 

“It’s definitely been an interesting semester. I did my undergrad here, so I got used to how things were done. It has been very interesting to see how leadership has worked so hard to make it all work successfully,” he said. 

He explained that the circumstances have given the music community a dose of reality. “There’s no such thing as a straight line in the career of performing arts. We all need to be prepared to adapt and roll with the punches. We are being thrown into the fire and are continually finding new ways to create meaningful art,” said Elgarten. “I believe this experience will be very valuable moving toward a professional career.” 

Elgarten will never forget his experience managing his first orchestra concert at Frost this semester. “It was amazing just to get back to rehearsing for the first time outside in a tent socially distanced. We all live and breathe music, and a part of you is gone when you lose that. So, being able to be together in a safe way and sharing it with a small audience was surreal,” he said. 

The Frost School of Music is working proactively to provide a safe and productive semester for its students and faculty members.At this time, concerts at Frost are attended by a limited number of music students and faculty members in order to adhere to safety protocols. Gerard Schwarz, a distinguished professor of music, conducting, and orchestral studies and music director of the Frost Symphony Orchestra, explained that there are a number of precautions that have been put in place for both performers and audience members. 

“Everyone is six feet apart and everyone is required to wear a mask. There are no exceptions. Performers must also bring their own stands and must bring their own folders and music,” said Schwarz. “When we hold concerts, we also have implemented specific times when people enter and exit the venue in order to avoid any kind of congregating.” 

Berg recounts the first performance of the semester at Frost. “You would see the tears in people’s eyes, and you felt the emotion in the room because it had been so long since people had played and listened to live music together in a venue,” he said. “It just speaks to the power of music and how important it is to us. I’m proud of what we’re doing, and I look forward to continuing to play a role in music during these troubled times.”

Live streaming has also been enhanced this year with multiple robotic cameras in both Gusman Concert Hall and Clarke Recital Hall. Berg said it’s an opportunity for Frost students to learn how to perform at a higher production level. 

The production services department has done an incredible job in upgrading the video and audio recording capabilities since we are playing for a limited audience,” explained Schwarz. This caliber of technology will definitely be beneficial and will stay with us after the pandemic. It’s been an enhancement that aided us in showcasing what we do to the world.” 

There is no doubt that every aspect of learning at Frost has been transformed, but Elton is proud to see how students have been able to excel given the difficulties.  

“From changing their performance styles, to even changing the way they practice, there really isn’t a single thing that they do that hasn’t been impacted,” said Elton. “I applaud how everyone has been able to adapt and do the things they love in really meaningful ways. It truly shows the spirit of Frost.”