Life of a Music Student in Lockdown

The COVID-19 crisis has led to both physical and social isolation. This is difficult, and for many music students it also means not being able to practice or work.
In this blog, you can read the reflections made by a group of music students regarding life in lockdown made during three video calls. These calls were facilitated by the Student Working Group, whose aims are to build a community, enable communication and strengthen a network across Europe. In a crisis, this is more important than ever.

The three calls were designed to give students the chance to connect, discuss and vent thoughts, worries and ideas in an informal and safe space. The need to share experiences appears to be in demand, evidenced both by the good turn out as well as the willingness from the participants to share. In our field of study – higher music education – many different experiences and bumps in the road exist in working online and offline through this crisis.

Motivation and Shame

An important topic that came up during the calls was lack of motivation: Even if one is able to practice where one lives, there are a lot of factors that influence the experience and ability. For musicians, not being able to practice well is connected with many different feelings and even shame, especially when it comes to motivation. Students in the call shared personal stories about this, varying from not finding the confidence at home in a different environment, to blaming themselves for not using all this time to finally practice their scales and improve technique. Just knowing that others are struggling too and being honest about the lack of motivation, can really help to reduce taboo and shame. From there, students can find motivation again to play and study, after which they can reconnect with the artistic and creative life.

Music and Livelihood

In the wider community, online concerts and live streams seem to keep the spirits up. For students this is encouraging, but also means that they have to rethink what it means to be an artist. Students give concerts for their development as artist, and also to support themselves financially. Giving ‘normal’ concerts has so far been essential for their journey as musician: connecting with their audiences. The uncertainty is surrounded by us wondering when these are going to take place again, and whether audiences and the public are willing to attend. This also challenges us to think about how the artistic process will be influenced and changed due to these uncertainties.

Different Experiences in Different Institutions

In the transition of taking teaching and learning online, the resilience of both institutions and students are tested. The support of governments, the legal frameworks that exist for assessment and examination requires a lot from institutions, and leads to different experiences depending on the national or regional system and infrastructure. In one of the calls we learned that a big number of professors in Italy refuse to teach online, as it presents itself as too much of a challenge for them, and the legal framework does not require them to do it. This is a huge problem for the students. In addition, this crisis highlights the challenges that already existed on the anticipation of life as a professional musician for our current students.
Online concerts and struggling concert halls require a different set of skills from the students.

Adaptability and Opportunities

During difficult times, the need to stand together and work together becomes stronger. This can have positive outcomes: Italian Student Unions connected and worked together to solve the issues they are facing, encouraging institutions and teachers to set up online teaching.  In a country with a huge number of conservatories, this is impressive, and a great foundation for continuing momentum after the crisis.

Next to opportunities on a local level, we see opportunities on the European level. The Student Working Group was curious to see who would turn up for the calls, thinking the majority might perhaps be people from the existing network. The majority of the attendees were new to the Association of European Conservatoires, and had no prior knowledge of AEC or the work of the Student WG. The AEC community and the national and local student unions did an amazing job sharing the event. Hosting the calls was a very positive experience for us and a great way to connect with people from across the globe. Hosting informal calls like this with different topics, and perhaps also panel discussions, is definitely something we will keep doing after this crisis.

These calls showed the challenges for music students in Europe and the importance of sharing these provocations with our peers. However, the main take away is the incredible willingness and readiness to connect and to adapt, and to find opportunities that arise through difficult times that can strengthen student voice and experience.

This article was written after a series of online meetings among music students, organised by the Student Working Group of the AEC. One of the students that joined the calls, has written a blog on his experience as a music student on lock down. For developments and tools to manage the COVID-19 crisis, please see the Call for Flexibility and the List of Tools on the AEC website, the European network of higher music education.

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