The Now Empty Claire Trevor Theatre at UCI

Theatre curtains are down.  Dance studios, practice rooms, and classrooms are locked tight.  Faculty members are available only in “virtual” classrooms.

As someone who greatly appreciates the amazing local talent and wide range of performing arts productions at UCI, Concordia University, and Irvine Valley College, I have been wondering how this new stay-at-home regimen is impacting Irvine’s academic performing arts faculty and students.  Will the COVID-19 pandemic become a blank line on their resumes?

Since I couldn’t meet with anyone in-person, I decided to check in on several of my art community contacts via phone.

My first call was to Professor Mari Kimura at The Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UCI.  Mari teaches PhD-level classes in Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology.

Professor Kimura told me that it has been helpful to continue seeing her students’ faces, even though it’s through a computer screen.  She’s noticed that many are feeling very, very vulnerable at the moment, but Mari believes that the pandemic may provide a hidden opportunity to change what she refers to as “our stagnating music world that was very last century.”  Mari said that even after the physical distancing mandate is over, our former model for orchestras & festivals won’t be tenable, and that a new model will emerge.  I was inspired to hear Mari say that she feels strongly that people will continue to find an outlet to express themselves, emphasizing that here in America, we have no boundaries to our thoughts.

As a class project, Professor Kimura asked her students to write an essay on what they think will happen in the future with regards to music, or what they want to happen in the post-COVID-19 culture.  With her students’ approval, Mari shared a few responses with me (shown in italics below).

“Our music may change its course in unprecedented ways giving rise to new styles and practices.  And heaven knows, we need a fresh breath of air.”

”It is not wishful thinking that isolation will result in a more quiet and uneventful life for most of us which will lead to an increased craving for entertainment and artistic pleasures.”

“Part of the reason why the musician community is affected so badly by this pandemic is a forced and unnatural individualism.”

“When we emerge from this crisis, I hope we recognize our dependence on each other and work towards a more socially engaged form of music-making.”

“Let music act as a social glue so we all realize its significance in our lives.”

“It is important that individuals offer tools and resources to lift others and foster unity.  Music is one such resource.“

“Musicians are meant to be the medics in a psychological war between facts and fear.”

“The musicians I interact with are busy trying to address the weakness of their economic position and not discussing the aesthetic imperatives of quarantine.”

A UCI Music student, Adib Ghorbani reported that the UCI Symphony Orchestra attempted to conduct a practice session on Zoom.  They started the session by testing the amount of delay between the 32 participants to determine if it was possible to schedule synchronized practices in the future.  Unfortunately, Adib said, “We tried to keep a simple pulse by following the conductor’s signs.  We failed.”

As an avid concert goer, I am hopeful that the UCI Symphony Orchestra will figure out a way to successfully practice together during this physical distancing period so that music lovers like me can look forward to attending one of their concerts — in whatever form it takes — in the not-too-distant future.

Edward Park, Professor of Music at Irvine Valley College told me that this has been a difficult time for both teachers and students, since students look forward to the classroom environment.  When I asked Edward about his current focus on music creativity, he said, “Mentally, I’m not in the right place for creativity.”

IVC Dean of the Arts, Joseph Poshek

Irvine Valley College Dean of the Arts, Joseph Poshek, reported that his school had planned to run full rehearsals, with no audience, film it, and then broadcast the results.  However, they quickly realized it wasn’t possible to follow the physical distancing order while creating the production.  Joseph said, “You have about 20 actors, along with production staff, costume assistants, makeup artists, and the entire technical staff.  So, you wind up with as many as 50 people backstage.  This was too hard to solve.“  Joseph explained that students in the visual arts must also be savvy in digital arts, so he has been encouraging students to take this opportunity at home to build skills for the digital side.

Photo of Molly Lynch by Skye Schmidt

I also placed a call to Molly Lynch, Chair of the Dance Department at UCI.  Molly told me that the current situation is like the old TV show, Hollywood Squares.  Molly said, “Students are kind of dancing together.  However, they are in little separate boxes on the computer screen.”  Even though she’s working from home, Molly told me that she’s busier than ever.  She said, “I’m amazed that the students show up for class every time.  They work hard.  They are disciplined.  They are ready to go.  It’s very heartening.  They don’t want to miss a step.”

In the months ahead, I will continue to check in with these talented artists and dedicated educators to learn how their art world has changed.  So, for now this topic is…to be continued.

Terry Schilling
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