A year into remote learning, young percussionists continue to persevere

Students in the Percussion Scholarship Program perform a virtual recital, featuring a solo turn by Sean Edwards, in spring 2020.

As students, teachers and parents have adapted to remote learning over the past year, the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra likewise has moved many of its educational programs online.

When in-person instruction was postponed in March 2020, the Percussion Scholarship Program quickly adapted to implement virtual training for its students in grades 4-12.

In a typical season, PSP students meet at Symphony Center each Saturday for lessons with the program’s founders and directors, CSO percussion Patricia Dash and Lyric Opera Assistant Principal Percussion Douglas Waddell. They also attend mentoring sessions that pair older and younger students together.

This season, each student receives two lessons per week via Zoom, and student mentors virtually meet with their younger mentees for 10 minutes every day. Instead of live recitals, students record performances from their homes. Waddell edits these videos, with audio engineering by Ryan Waddell, son of Douglas Waddell and Patricia Dash.

While remote learning presents many challenges, from poor internet connections to the loss of ensemble playing, Waddell and Dash have found some unique benefits in this season’s virtual format. Students are receiving more individual lesson time, and the daily mentoring sessions between students have proven so effective that the instructors plan to continue this virtual element even when in-person teaching resumes.

“[The pandemic] has opened our eyes to a different way to run the program and to teach,” Waddell says. “You make lemonade out of lemons.”

Support your orchestra
Make a gift