Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery sent the following message to alumni of the Bienen School of Music.

Alumni: to ensure you receive future communication, please update your information in Our Northwestern.

I hope you and your families are staying safe and healthy during this time of uncertainty. I am writing to share several updates on the Bienen School of Music’s response to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, April 6, the Bienen School began a historic spring quarter. Rather than meeting in our classrooms, studios, and rehearsal halls, students and faculty gathered virtually for the first day of remote instruction. In an effort to protect the Northwestern community, the University will maintain this remote format for the entirety of spring quarter.

As you can imagine, this situation presents particular challenges for the Bienen School of Music as so much of our students’ learning depends on personal interactions with professors and peers. However, many of our faculty members have demonstrated great creativity in adapting their courses and activities for remote instruction. Faculty are using Zoom or other video conferencing platforms to conduct academic classes and lessons with their students. Several faculty members have previous experience teaching through video conferencing, while others have quickly embraced the new systems.

I am extremely proud of our faculty’s work in identifying innovative and collaborative solutions in a difficult situation. Some notable examples include:

  • The spring opera, Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, will proceed as an original online film project. Both instrumentalists and singers will record audio and video, guided by Director of Opera Joachim Schamberger and conductor Stephen Alltop. The culmination will be an experimental opera film entitled Orfeo Remote.
  • In the absence of ensemble rehearsals, Director of Choral Organizations Donald Nally is hosting weekly guest composer sessions for all Bienen voice students via Zoom. Several prominent composers, including Caroline Shaw, Julia Wolfe, Eriks Esenvalds, John Luther Adams, and others, will join these seminars to discuss their choral music.
  • String chamber music instruction will focus on the more difficult repertoire excerpts for specific instruments. Individual members of the Dover Quartet, the Bienen School’s Quartet-in-Residence, will meet with small groups of students by instrument via Zoom for weekly coaching sessions to prepare their individual parts.

Although we have made great strides in adapting to these challenging circumstances, several music classes were deemed less than optimal and/or impossible to provide through remote instruction and therefore canceled by Bienen School faculty, including ensembles such as orchestra and band. The requirement for participation in these ensembles has been waived for students for the current quarter. Student recitals have also been canceled, although students and their faculty members may opt for a virtual recital or move the recital to next year.

The Bienen School and Northwestern are committed to supporting students during this difficult time. Northwestern is providing emergency funding for travel, technology, and other expenses through the Student Emergency and Essential Needs (SEEN) Fund. Many Bienen undergraduate and graduate students have benefited from these funds. Additionally, the Bienen School has rented and delivered 14 electronic keyboards to piano majors who are in Evanston and cannot practice in our building, which remains closed due to the state’s shelter-in-place order.

While all Bienen School concerts and events through June 6 have been canceled, the school’s Davee Media Library remains a valuable source of past performance videos. This digital library features recordings of nearly 100 events, including orchestra, band, jazz, new music, and vocal ensemble concerts; student and faculty recitals; master classes; and performances by renowned guest artists. The Bienen School is working to reschedule select spring 2020 events, including the second residency of our 2018 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize winner, composer Jennifer Hidgon, and the fourth annual Northwestern University New Music Conference, NUNC! 4.

For continued news and updates, please visit Northwestern’s Coronavirus/COVID-19 website.

I look forward to the day when I can greet you again in person, either at alumni events in your city or on campus when music returns to our performance halls. In the meantime, I extend best wishes for your continued health and safety.


Toni-Marie Montgomery

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