Central Washington University music department adjusting to the online education – Daily Record-News

Posted: April 23, 2020 at 11:45 am

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Central Washington University Director of Jazz Studies Chris Bruya jumps on the bike every now and then to get out of the house to clear his head in between outlining his online studies programs.

Director of Orchestral Activities Nik Caoile is in charge of a 75-member orchestra. Caoile is working hard to develop a spring semester, online Band-Aid that will help his department bridge the gap until it can get back to normal, hopefully in the fall.

Fourth-year trombonist Cole Lobdell is from Richland, but continuing his studies here in Ellensburg. He misses that live contact playing in the Jazz Band I, but has picked up a little playing time in a virtual big band collaboration called the Isolation Big Band.


Business as usual at Central Washington University in a COVID-19 pandemic world has become one of creative thought at this point. Between seniors and grad students trying to complete the final quarter; department heads and professors scrambling to put a criterium up online, higher education is finding new ways to make an impact. And, of course the underclassmen are preparing as they settle into their particular field of study.

It is especially challenging in the music department where studies arent exactly an equation that can be posted online. Take away the hands-on exposure of playing or singing together, well lets just say, creativity is the song of the day.

Teaching cannot be replaced by an online format, so this is more of a Band-Aid for the spring and hopefully we get back to normal in the fall. What Im trying to do is make my courses synchronized. When Im giving a common time, Im putting in the material and theyre digesting that material on their own, said Caoile, who received the Outstanding Orchestral Achievement Award from the Washington Chapter of the American String Teachers Association.

Theyre actually finding different motivations as they work their day without a schedule. Theyre learning how to work on that on their own in terms of self-discipline. But what we do is a social art form, and Ive gotten some feedback from the students saying what they really miss is being on stage or rehearsing together, seeing each other every day.


Bruyas jazz department is in the same boat. How does the eye contact and band energy translate to the isolation of education during a stay-at-home pandemic? He said his first reaction was to cancel jazz bands (large ensembles) and combos (small groups) because its just not possible to rehearse online, let alone perform.

It became apparent that cancelling classes would be detrimental to the health of the department, college and university, so I began to think about how we might move in the online direction, he said.

He eliminated rehearsal and playing together in a unified way, but could not eliminate anything else. Playing with proper style, intonation, dynamics, and tone could all be taught and evaluated online.

What Ive come up with is not really earth-shattering or ground-breaking, but it is working and enrollment is at or very near usual in-person classes, Bruya said. What were doing in both jazz bands and combos is asking students to play along with professional recordings, matching as closely as possible what they are hearing on the recording to their own playing. They get a week to master each selection, record themselves, then post their recording for evaluation.


Lobdell has been the lead trombone in Jazz Band I the past couple of years. Whats going on now is that all three jazz bands have been lumped together and the online structure is for everyone.

Bruya has chosen eight well-known composition/arrangements that have ensemble passages that involve jazz vocabulary, style, dynamics and ensemble playing. It is the kind of playing and musicianship that is consistently taught in the in-person rehearsals.

Were doing more of a curriculum thats designed more toward the teachers career part of band education, said Lobdell. Were listening to the recordings for things we can improve. Were not playing in the concert band at all.

My goal is to be a teacher, so Im getting a chance to these exercises of analyzing and fixing things. So, this is extremely helpful.


Said Bruya, With the Jazz Harmony & Keyboard, Ive been considering creation of video lessons for quite some time so Im taking the opportunity to develop fairly short how-to demos, focused assignments and clear outcomes, he said. I think it will work out nicely and if successful I may offer the class in a hybrid mode or full asynchronous online, as soon as next year.

If you would like to hear a bit of Lobdells work online, visit https://youtu.be/ZHIv0LehaC8 (Tall Cotton) or https://youtu.be/FzaJrbzg7Ig (Bounce).

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Central Washington University music department adjusting to the online education - Daily Record-News

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April 23rd, 2020 at 11:45 am

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