And the band played on.
Long Beach City College will start the fall semester with online classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many college professors are still getting acclimated to teaching online, one LBCC department will be challenged to stay in tune.
Because how do you teach music classes involving instruments – online?
“We are going to do the best we can,” said Patrick Sheng, an assistant professor in the Department of Performing Arts at LBCC. “Despite the drawbacks of the performance program going online for the fall, I'm very thankful that we have the opportunity to offer these jazz courses.”
Sheng is the director of Instrumental Jazz Studies and teaches classes like Big Band, Jazz Combos and Vocal Jazz Ensembles.
“A big part of my job is organizing concerts,” said Sheng, who is a jazz saxophonist, “but honestly, all the energy of playing together won’t be the same this semester. All of our groups rehearse and rehearse for the purpose of doing concerts. Instead, we will be doing recording projects using different software where people can record at home. And students will have some transcription and sight reading assignments.”
As an educator, he has taught jazz and saxophone courses at McNeese State University, Clark College and Washington State University. Sheng has served as the president of the Louisiana Association for Jazz Education and works regularly as a conductor, clinician, organizer, and adjudicator for honor bands and jazz festivals.
Sheng said that his big concern for the semester is students having access to computers in order to participate in class. He said that full-time students can apply to receive $500 to purchase a laptop like a Chromebook. He did notice that during the spring semester, some students were accessing his Zoom classes from their cars.
“It really throws a wrench into the gears trying to take a class using a phone,” Sheng said. “But I can understand that internet connectivity in some apartment complexes can be really bad.”
Right now, enrollment in some music class is a bit dodgy, but Sheng said most students don’t sign up until the end.
“There is an equity problem as well,” he said. “I’m guessing we won’t see a lot of homeless students because they are the ones who go to the computer rooms on campus to take classes.”
As a performer, Sheng has shared the stage with jazz artists such as Joey DeFrancesco, Wycliffe Gordon and Tom Scott. He has also performed with the Spokane Symphony Pops, Washington-Idaho Symphony, The Harry James Orchestra and has been featured on recordings.
Sheng said he also worries that he won’t be seeing non-music majors — the ones who are biology students or people who have retired and are just taking the class because they want to play in a band.
“For students in band and orchestra, it’s a fun thing for them to do,” he said. “This is a social thing as well. The semester won’t be live and it won’t be in person. People played in band when they were younger and without that social aspect, unless they are music majors, we won’t see a lot of other students. As I said, all the energy and playing concerts will be missing.”
To register for classes, go to https://www.lbcc.edu/