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Virtual learning in action: Collaborative project results in pandemic-inspired music videos

| Julie Poquette

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students and faculty are combining their talents and the practical application of newly learned skills to create musical reflections of their university’s response in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

The collaborative projects involve students, faculty and staff in jazz studies and the recording arts certificate program. They highlight the collaborators' composition, performance, sound engineering and video production skills in the creation of two music videos.

The first video features the song “A Time to Heal,” a commissioned work composed by UW-Eau Claire guest artist and jazz studies instructor Adi Yeshaya and performed by students in UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I. Students in the university’s recording arts certificate program completed the audio engineering, under the guidance of Lena Sutter, music and theatre arts department recording engineer and supervisor for recording arts internships, and Yeshaya.

A second video, to be released soon, will feature the song “Integrity,” a commissioned work composed by 2011 UW-Eau Claire alumnus and now lecturer of music Dr. Aaron Hedenstrom. Students in the university’s Jazz Ensemble II will perform the piece and recording arts students will again complete the sound engineering, with guidance from Sutter and Hedenstrom.

Student Amber Scharenbroch, a jazz studies intern in UW-Eau Claire’s music and theatre arts department, served as video editor on both projects. Recording arts certificate students Nicole Johnson and Ben Phillips did the audio mixing for “A Time to Heal,” and students Thomas Lahren and Mitchell Dahlke, also pursuing the recording arts certificate, will do sound mixing on the “Integrity” project.

“This project for UW-Eau Claire Jazz Ensembles I and II was a practical solution to the need to facilitate student learning virtually from April 6 to the end of the semester,” says Robert Baca, professor of music and UW-Eau Claire’s first Margaret and Jack O’Farrell Director of Jazz. "As learning recording techniques is an essential skill in today’s industry for music graduates, the students developed the concept totally by ‘discovery learning’ in the form of a game.”

To learn the recording process, students in each ensemble section competed with the other sections — motivated by the coveted “best section” award of a king-sized Snickers bar for each team member — in the creation of their own videos prior to the full-ensemble production process. Given the stay-at-home restrictions in play during the project, participants had the added complication that each student was contributing from a separate location.

“This was a great capstone project for my sound engineering interns at Pablo Center at the Confluence, but also a great opportunity for the students in the jazz ensembles to be exposed to recording technology,” Sutter says. “Though musicians and sound engineers were both working with circumstances that most wouldn’t consider ideal, that challenged them to use their technology in new ways.”

Kate Rosenberger, a UW-Eau Claire music major and member of Jazz Ensemble II, agrees the challenges students faced resulted in impactful learning.

“I think this project was incredibly valuable,” Rosenberger says. “While it may have been stressful at the time, I can say that I can now record a chart to a professional level. I think it also helped everyone think outside the box. Mr. Baca kind of sat on the sidelines and let the students run the project. We ran into problems but then figured out how to fix them on our own. I think that kind of learning is where students learn the most. They are experiencing it firsthand. Then in the end, when it’s all over, we can say that we completed something that is truly amazing and we all did it from our homes.”

Video editor Amber Scharenbroch, a business administration major who also is pursuing certificates in arts administration and recording arts, says she jumped at the opportunity to make the videos dedicated to the university community and challenge her video-editing skills.

“I had some previous experience with making various videos for jazz studies this semester, but this was definitely of a larger caliber than anything I was used to,” Scharenbroch says. “This was a huge project for us to undertake, but we worked together on so many different levels to create something big, and we all enjoyed ourselves along the way.”

Introducing ‘A Time to Heal’

Yeshaya composed  “A Time to Heal” with UW-Eau Claire students and all the challenges they faced during the spring 2020 semester in mind.

“Each individual in the world was impacted by COVID-19, Some in worse ways than others,“ Yeshaya says. “But all had to endure the effects of social distancing. ‘A Time To Heal’ is a dedication to the students of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who were ripped apart from their campus and their friends mid-semester.”

Yeshaya also had the students participating in the project in mind as he composed the work:

“They persevered and overcame this hurdle and, among other school requirements, they managed to perform, record and produce this original piece of music on their own, with impeccable results.”

Watch and listen as UW-Eau Claire students perform Yeshaya’s “A Time to Heal” in the video above, and check back here for details on the soon-to-be released “Integrity” music video.