Orchestra at home


Lincoln-Way Central’s Mrs. Jackson gets creative to continue music instruction during remote learning.

As e-learning rolls on, and as Christmas approaches, life continues as the new normal for students. Sure, most classes have continued with relative ease, after the struggle of the first few weeks. But what about classes where group participation is the name of the game, something that is much harder to do when everyone is miles apart? I am, of course, referring to the myriad of music electives here at Lincoln-Way Central, but more specifically, orchestra. 

Orchestra here is taught by Mrs. Jackson, who was faced with quite the challenge at the beginning of remote learning in March. “How do I teach a class where the normal daily activity is playing music together with 40 students of varying skill and eagerness?” Her solution during the final months of the 2019-2020 school year was, unfortunately, a stopgap, as most learning was during that period. It must be said, though, that this is not due to lack of effort or care on Mrs. Jackson’s part. Due to the nature of online classrooms, the class was unable to play music together at allOftentimes, the only assignment for the day was to complete music theory training on websites like Music Theory.net or Breezin’ Thru’ Theory, leaving the students’ instruments forlorn and disused. 

However, with the much-needed summer vacation, Mrs. Jackson took the time and came up with a vibrant new music program to kick off the new (virtual) year. Initially, when welcoming new students and getting back into the mindset of being musical, Mrs. Jackson again turned to music theory website. But this, dear readers, was only a warmup. Once the routine was established, and the cobwebs cleared from brains, the creativity of Mrs. Jackson began to flourish.  Due to a new program called Soundtrap, Mrs. Jackson was able to assign projects in which students record themselves playing music and submit it to the teacher. The program even allows for multiple tracks and virtual instruments to be layered over one another, giving many students the taste of orchestral music they so lacked. 

Once the school allowed in-person learning again, Mrs. Jackson wasted no time bringing orchestra back to its intended nature. She gave the students a slew of music to work on for Halloween, and set the class on a tempo of trying to get through as much of it as possible. Recording some songs for the fall holiday, Mrs. Jackson continued to give more and more music to the students in an effort to bring them the most joy from playing possible. Once remote learning resumed, Mrs. Jackson did not despair, quickly creating new Soundtrap projects for the students. These included a “Duet with Yourself” project, in which the students play the top and bottom part of a song of their choosing, and a Christmas project, where students chose from classic Christmas songs to play by themselves or with a group. Mrs. Jackson plans to publish the class’s combined efforts to YouTube. 

Below is an exclusive interview with Mrs. Jackson covering her teaching career, her opinions on remote learning, and her plans for the rest of the year


When did you start teaching in general, and when did you start teaching at Lincoln-Way? 

 I began my teaching career and Lincoln-Way career at Lincoln-Way in 1997. I was actually hired in April 1997, six weeks before I graduated from college, so many of my professors just gave me an instant “A” and told me I didn’t need to come to class anymore – which was great, since I needed to pick up more shifts at my waitressing job to make enough money to move here from central Illinois. 


What made you want to be a music teacher? 

My favorite teachers in elementary, junior high and high school were all music teachers. I loved how being in their ensembles made me feel, how creating music together with my classmates gave such a lift to our days.  I wanted to create that same feeling for my own students – and I hope that I do. 


What’s your favorite part of teaching music/orchestra? 

There are so many! I look forward to seeing all of my students every day, I enjoy introducing young people to new pieces of music, I delight in seeing the “look” my students give me when a piece that was once too hard or too confusing suddenly comes together, I burst with pride in showcasing all that we have learned in concerts for friends and family, and I cherish creating a space where everything else melts away and we can just make music together. A very unique part of my job is the luxury of time: as many students take orchestra for four years, I have the privilege of really watching my students grow up. I love that. 


What’s it like teaching at both Central and West? 

There have only been ten years in my 24-year career that I did not split my time between two Lincoln-Ways. For the first five years of my career, I taught at both Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way East, and for the last ten years I have started my day at Lincoln-Way West. Each school definitely has its own unique culture and vibe, and I am happy to teach all of my students regardless of what Lincoln-Way they call home. However, it does call for some pre-planning and a quick wardrobe change on Fridays! 


How has the pandemic changed your approach to music-making and teaching? 

Due to our remote circumstances, I have needed to adapt my methods of creating performance opportunities for my students to share. Through a lack of group rehearsals and a real dependence on recording applications,  I have an opportunity to really focus on each student’s individual performance level, which is a little intense for some students who would rather play with others than have the spotlight lit so brightly on them. It’s definitely been a challenge for me as well as my students. 


What do you like about remote learning? 

Since I live close to Central and can conduct all of my classes from my office, I now walk to school – and I have happily worn my jeans and trainers every day. 


What do you dislike about remote learning? 

I feel that remote learning works really well for some students but is a true struggle of motivation and understanding for others. It is simply easier to successfully engage students with the magic of proximity and the energy of a classroom – and it is very easy for many students to disengage when not in the physical space or frame of mind to get to work.  


What do you look forward to when we get back? 

I LOVE seeing my students in person! I am also missing seeing my extracurriculars – Jazz Band, Lincoln-Way Symphony, and Tri-M – and would love to jump back into those great rehearsals and meetings. 


Do you have any fun ideas for performing while we’re all virtual? 

We are currently working on a class compilation of holiday pieces that students are creating using Soundtrap, which allows them to collaborate remotely with others. I hope these remote opportunities yield a nice product for all of our efforts! 


We’re all excited to see the results of the Christmas project, and as class resumes in 2021, I’m sure that there are exciting things going on, virtual learning or no!