Many people have been getting in touch to ask:

What is Orchestra going to be like at West for Fall 2020? What about EDGE vs. (eventual) Blended learning?

I wish I had more definitive answers. Here’s what I know (or, at least, am pretty sure of):

-It appears to me that the EDGE people have been giving some mixed messages about participation of EDGE students in things like orchestra. There currently is no way for EDGE students to join in with orchestra classes at the school because of “cohorting” (see more below). However they are holding open the possibility of OSAA-eligible groups (like Chamber and Symphony) being able to meet and practice “after school” in order to prepare for State next Spring, but there is no plan in place for exactly how that might happen. EDGE students WILL still be eligible to participate in other school-based things like sports teams—that’s where they are looking to wedge in ensembles, as if they are teams, I am assuming. But no, EDGE students can’t be in the school orchestra classes.

-The orchestra classes that WILL happen, that EDGE students can’t be in, will be radically different anyway. Students in the blended model (at the school, when it’s safe to go back, but in distance learning for now) will be grouped arbitrarily by cohort and not necessarily by the ensemble they auditioned for. The idea is that a cohort of students attends a bunch of classes together to minimize people’s exposure to hundreds of different students in a day. I have not met with anyone at the school to see how my classes will be built yet, but you can imagine that arranging the entire student body around which string player got into Sinfonietta vs. String Ensemble is pretty unlikely. So I am looking at the possibility of an orchestra class entirely of freshmen but from every level, or a class of just sophomores from three different orchestras, or a class of people who all happen to be in the same math and science levels—I just don’t know yet, although more than likely it will be by grade (especially with 9th and 10th out for one quarter and 11th and 12th out for two).

-AND the classes will be 18 weeks, not year-round. Students in the blended model take four classes at a time instead of up to eight—so now if you were in one orchestra class, you would have it a lot for one semester and not at all for the other. (What they are going to do for students who, for example, are now signed up for Symphony plus another orchestra class is not entirely clear. It would be nice for students to have one each semester.) I cannot guarantee at this moment that, if you were to do EDGE for a semester and then want to come back, there would be an orchestra class 2nd semester for you to get into. I’m not saying it can’t happen, just that I don’t know yet. I can’t get any class schedules at all until the District decides how many people will be in EDGE.

-Because of these constraints I will have to teach quite differently than the style to which I (and my students) have become accustomed. I will need to divide up each class into level-appropriate small groups and assign small ensemble stuff like chamber music, as well as general technique elements that everyone can do to their level. I will probably teach more elements that lend themselves to online instruction—theory and history—than I would ordinarily. For as long as we are all-online, at least, I will need to do brief video one-on-one sessions with each student each week. Those groups will, however, eventually meet together as ensembles. Even before classes officially return to school I may be able to have groups meet on Mondays during that vague “student support” time that they have built into the schedule; but that’s only if the counties’ COVID numbers improve sufficiently (which is what we will all be waiting on anyway). And of course, I can’t stop small groups (duos, trios, quartets) from getting together on their own to practice, even if I can’t assign it…

My job as I see it now is to figure out how to make these classes sufficiently compelling as to represent a more attractive alternative to a student then “just go ahead and do EDGE and take lessons.” My fellow orchestra teachers and I are still just trying to wrap our heads around how we might do this. For some people, EDGE may still be the best option for their own development, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for making that choice. But I will still be at West, doing the Mr. Thomson show, and if anyone decided after a while that EDGE was not working for them I would happily welcome them back (assuming there would be an orchestra class to place them in — see above).

I sincerely hope that this helps. I wish I could be more specific but this is an uncommonly fluid situation. When I have more information to share I will probably try everyone at their salemkeizer.org email so keep an eye out.

Mr. Thomson


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