For UMKC Conservatory faculty, staff and students, it has been almost two months since we were last together on campus. Our thriving community of music, dance and theatre was brought to an abrupt halt by COVID-19, as we were facing the same situation as many arts organizations around the country were: How do we move forward?
During this time of uncertainty, it has been the arts that many have turned to. From online streaming concerts to balcony performances, the arts have been bringing together people from all walks of life. Conservatory students have been finding new ways to collaborate — with Zoom classes and rehearsals, YouTube videos and porch concerts around the Kansas City metro. For the faculty and staff of the UMKC Conservatory, some of our most inspired moments have come from our tremendous students.
“There are so many motivational words and sayings that I use in my teaching, my performing and in my life as a parent. A few of these quotes have been passed down to me and are now just part of who I am, as they were a strength to others before me: “Where there is a will there is a way”; “Always take the high road”; “What we experience in struggles will only make us stronger.” I have been living these quotes my entire life and passing them on to my students and my children in various ways. As I look at these times and the struggles with COVID-19, I am reminded of another quote from a movie that I feel in a single moment encapsulates what we as artists and what we all in general must do to keep our lives, dreams and goals in focus. I know that many of my students are showing the essence of this quote in their hard work and dedication to their voices and studies at UMKC. In Apollo 13, Gene Kranz, NASA’s Second Chief Flight Director (played by Ed Harris) listens to the NASA Director declare that Apollo 13 could be the worst disaster NASA has ever experienced. Kranz turns to him and says, “With all due respect, sir . . . I believe this will be our finest hour.” Through our positivity, strength and creativity, we all must make this time in history our finest hours — the inspiration seen in my students at UMKC this past semester.” — Maria Kanyova, Associate Professor of Voice
“I’m absolutely blown away by the students’ response to this mess; they’ve been tenacious, patient and really focused during online lessons, despite all the shortcomings of the various electronic limits. It’s been really amazing.” — Keith Benjamin, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Trumpet
Joseph Parisi, who serves as Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Instrumental Music Education and Associate Director of Bands, spent some time with his Conservatory Wind Ensemble students really diving deep into their shared love for music. When Dr. Parisi prompted the ensemble with “Why Music?” some of the students replied:
“Music has always been there for me, and I can’t think of anything else that I have wrestled so much to work toward understanding and communicating with others. I feel like I have had my most transcendental moments in my life making music and have been my most vulnerable at times with others while conducting or giving a recital.”
“Music is a language. It is what allows me to express myself and show the world who I truly am. I don’t think I would be who I am today if I didn’t have music. Every person on earth can relate to music. We are born with it and we die with it. That’s why we have music commemorating births and funeral marches. When some of the most important moments of our lives happen, music can go along with those moments to heighten them.”
“Music has driven me and inspired me more than anything else in my life. It continues to give me the support and drive to go through life happy and content. It has given me my friends, mentors and teachers. Music has provided me with a way to know people on a level that most people don’t understand through everyday conversation.”
Dr. Paul Rudy, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Composition and Composition Area Coordinator, shares a special story about the lengths one student went to, to participate in our new virtual world. This will be a story that stays with him for a lifetime:
“I teach a graduate seminar in the Aesthetics and Analysis of Electroacoustic Music. It’s a research-heavy class with graduate students and a single undergraduate, Austin Engelhardt. When I joined the Zoom class meeting, our GTA Ben Ramey, another student in the class, had a virtual background photo of Austin’s “classroom” setup in the back of his car. Austin, like me, lives in the country and does not have reliable Wi-Fi. He’s been finishing the semester literally from the back of his car, in parking lots, to use whatever Wi-Fi he can find. He never mentioned this to anyone, never complained and never skipped a beat in the class. He just did whatever he needed to do, to succeed in finishing his work this semester. The whole scenario comes across in a single screenshot from our Zoom class, which started that day with unbridled laughter that didn’t want to stop. I know it lifted my spirits, and I think everyone else’s too. Spring semester 2020 could be burned in my memory as the most challenging one in a 57-year lifetime spent mostly in school either as a student or teacher. Instead, this image of our class, and Austin Engelhardt making the best of a bad situation, is how I will remember it forever!”
Conservatory faculty, staff, and students have demonstrated that it’s our shared love of the arts and the collaborative nature of our endeavors that have kept us united and always moving forward together, no matter what.