Despite the pandemic, music has never been stronger in the secondary public schools in Talbot County. An ambitious Artists-in-Residence Program, which initially began through collaboration between the Talbot County Arts Council, Chesapeake Music, the University of Maryland School (UMD) of Music faculty, and Easton Middle School (EMS), has expanded this year to include band students at Easton High School (EHS) as well.
This year, the Annapolis Woodwind Quintet, as well as UMD Music faculty, have been working virtually with EMS and EHS students. Using a collaborative lesson plan, the Annapolis Woodwind Quintet is working with music students and teachers to listen to music from around the world and talk about the genres and musical styles. Each visit has involved a 40-minute presentation by the quintet, as well as class time to help develop a meaningful relationship between quintet members and the students they mentor. In addition, students receive masterclasses from the visiting artists.
The University of Maryland and Annapolis Woodwind Quintet portion of the initiative is being managed by Dr. Robert DiLutis, Professor of Clarinet. He states, “So far, the program has been an amazing success, and students and our woodwind quintet have had some incredible concerts and classes. Because we initially were 100 percent online, I decided that we needed to move in a slightly new direction this year using more experienced musicians. I turned to the members of the Annapolis Woodwind Quintet, of which I am a member. The other principal members of the Annapolis Woodwind Quintet are Kim Valerio, flute; Fatma Daglar, oboe; Patty Morgan, bassoon; and Tony Valerio, French horn. Everyone in the group is also a member of the Annapolis Symphony. Having professional musicians at this high of caliber has allowed us to present online virtual concerts, perform solo works for the students, and give private and group lessons.”
EJ Oesterle, Band Director, Easton High School and Director of the Mid-Shore Community Band since 2016, adds, “This has been a great opportunity for high school band students this year to work with professionals from a symphony. It has been a really positive experience for students. Even though these are professional musicians, they are approachable to the students and excellent teachers.”
“The musicians offer specialty clinics where they perform for the students. These include exposing them to different types of music they may not have heard before, breathing techniques, rehearsal strategies, and such practical advice as to how to deal with performance anxiety and how to prepare for college auditions.”
According to Donna Ewing, Band Director at Easton Middle School, the students, who had four group sessions in the fall, will continue with the virtual sessions this spring. She comments, “Even though this is a virtual experience, the students are still getting quality performers with whom to interact. Students still get a chance in the breakout rooms to improve their skills and still can participate in virtual lessons with these musicians.”
Two members of the Annapolis Quintet are members of military bands and have been able to share their experiences of another type of music career with the students. On a new website, students can find links to classes, lectures, music clinics, recordings of solos they are working on, band music, and other helpful material so they may continue to learn and grow as young musicians during this time of great separation and struggle.
Ewing adds, “I don’t think the students will fully appreciate the magnitude of this experience until later, having a college professor and other professionals offering them these experiences is just extraordinary.”
The Artists-in-Residence Program was initiated in 2017 by members of the board of directors of the Talbot County Arts Council who were dismayed by the near-total absence of young people attending Mid-Shore Area performances of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, and Chesapeake Music. A study group concluded that younger people might begin attending if they could be introduced to classical music in various appealing forms at the secondary school level.
Nancy Larson, Chesapeake Music and Talbot County Arts Council liaison with the Artists in Residence Program in Talbot County, comments, “What has thrilled us is the enthusiasm of Dr. DiLutis and his colleagues. They have developed new ideas and new formats to meet the needs of the students and teachers. Students are living in a virtual world anyway, so this is a way to meet them on their own platforms.”
“This program has opened pathways in how we approach teaching music while offering alternatives to how we communicate musical experiences and get students interested in having music in their lives and carrying that passion into the future.”
Dr. DiLutis adds, “I believed in the beginning and it has proven to be true that having extremely flexible and versatile musicians, when working online, would be imperative to a successful program. Keeping students engaged and excited about music has been our main mission.”
Joan Levy, Executive Director of the Talbot County Arts Council, one of the funders of the program, adds, “We are excited to be supporting the Artists-in-Residence program. Dr. DiLutis and his colleagues with the Annapolis Woodwind Quintet have managed to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and deliver creative programming which has continued to inspire our students at Easton Middle, and now this year, Easton High School as well.”
The program is made possible by a grant from the Artistic Insights Fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation and through funds from an Arts-in-Education grant from the Talbot County Arts Council, using revenues provided by the Maryland State Arts Council.