Summer music education in motion

Local musicians and educators Jason Wood and Sheena Moore as seen via webcam during lesson one of their online summer music and performance camp “Music in Motion.”

Aug. 8, 2020 — It’s been a summer unlike any seen before.

Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, many typical activities and summer recreation opportunities have all but disappeared in order to ensure community safety. Children in particular have had little chance to safely recreate and engage with their peers, leading to a season of relative inactivity and isolation.

On Monday, Aug. 3, Florence-based musicians Jason Wood and Sheena Moore began trying to change that as their “Music in Motion” online summer camp kicked off its inaugural year. 

“Music in Motion” is a camp geared towards children age 5-8, running from Aug. 3-27, that provides campers with a weekly instructional video every Monday, followed by an online group session every Thursday where Wood and Moore can interact with the children, see what they’ve learned and give them a forum to interact with one another. 

The focus of the camp is on the relationship between music and the body, performance, and a basic understanding of things like beat, rhythm, pitch and general musical literacy.

“We do hope that they walk away with base knowledge of concepts like pulse and how to tell a story with their body,” Moore said, “but we also hope that they walk away with this sparked interest in learning more. Music is a rabbit hole and it’s a really wonderful rabbit hole.”

Based out of Florence, Ore., Wood and Moore both have extensive backgrounds in both music and music education. Wood moved to Florence around 10 years ago from Southern California — where he was involved in both music and theater — and has since worked in children’s improvisational theater and is a private music teacher. Moore, a Mapleton native, recently graduated from a music education program at the University of Oregon with a focus on choral studies, and also has a background in elementary education and works as a private music teacher.

“That’s another facet as to why we are a good team, too,” Wood said. “My approach tends to be more performance based and Sheena’s is very literacy based, I would say.”

Like so many educators, when coronavirus first struck, their attention went straight to the effects it would likely have on children and their access to continued education and social interaction with their peers.

“In the summer I will usually teach a music program in one of our local camps here in town for kids,” Wood added. “But, because of the pandemic everything is shut down. So, our thought process was, ‘We have to figure out a way to make it available to kids.’ 

“So many programs are just dead in the water right now that it felt very, very necessary. … Sheena and I think it’s really important that the kids have these artistic and musical outlets available to them and watching them all disappear was really, for me personally, the fire, my motivation.”

Luckily, unlike sports for example, music and performance are not things that must strictly be done face-to-face thanks to video conference technology. The teaching tandem saw their opportunity to contribute to their community during a time of need.

“These kids, some of them may have siblings or family members that are vulnerable,” Moore said. “So they need to quarantine, and with that quarantine they’re isolated from peers and activities that are really enriching. It can be lonely. So, we’ve tried to incorporate interaction with other kids as well as us into this program.”

As education moves towards distance learning models under the threat of COVID-19 — models that could become fixtures of education pending the future of the pandemic — “Music in Motion” is shaping up to be an example of how these models can work and, hopefully, work well. 

The campers have an opportunity to learn independence in their education, as there is a three-day window each week between when the weekly lesson is released on Monday and the “in-person” video meeting each Thursday, but more importantly, it’s a model that shows interaction is still possible, even at a distance, given the right subject material and approach.

“The humanities [like music] really encourage teamwork, they encourage empathy, and allow you to learn about other cultures other than what you’re immersed in,” Moore said. “And that’s a wonderful thing and a very important thing in this globalized world we live in.”

“And then all you gotta do is make it fun, throw a few animal movements in there, ride a horse, chase a bull, and then you’ve got the kids!” Wood added.

While Wood and Moore are pleased to be able to offer a tangible, real-life summer activity to children during a difficult time, their hopes extend beyond the four-week “Music in Motion” camp. Perhaps programs like theirs and others like it can be a rubric for other educators of all subjects to explore as the future of education gets cloudier.

“The future of music education in public schools is increasingly uncertain … due to the nature of music, with breathing and singing. They’re all activities that require extra distance, extra space and extra caution,” Moore said. “It’s making educators rethink how to teach music and what’s really important about music. Hopefully in the future we realize that music is much more than singing or playing notes from a page.”

“We, as educators, need to get creative right now and we can’t back off. We need to push forward,” Wood said.

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