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Deerfield Arts Transpose to an Online Setting
Lily Zeng ’22 Associate Editor
April 11, 2020

This spring, teachers are perfecting the art of Screen Share, and online PDFs have replaced books. But what about the members of our community who typically spend their afternoons practicing their instruments or painting in the studio? This transition has presented an additional challenge for the Visual and Performing Arts faculty at Deerfield—how can the artistic spirit of Deerfield be continued and nurtured through screens?  

Studio art and architecture curriculums have adjusted according to supplies and materials that students may have at home. While AP Studio Art classes are continuing to work towards the AP exam in May, Post-AP classes have been pursuing a collaboration-based curriculum, named Art for Us. 

Visual and Performing Arts and Studio Art Teacher Mercedes Taylor is currently working with an alumnus artist, Angel Abre ‘92, creating weekly prompts for students to explore in their art. 

Benny Yang ‘21 added that he enjoys the unique structure of the new curriculum: “At the end of each week, we submit our pieces together as a whole, without signing our names. It’s presented as a group projectone really big piece.” This group-centered system hopes to increase awareness of how art is not limited to individual work.

Visual and Performing Arts and Studio Art Teacher David Payne’s senior elective Intro to Architecture was designed with an emphasis on drawing by hand, but now the course discusses “contemporary issues in architecture,” reviewing various TED Talks and articles related to the field of architecture and design. His Advanced Architectural Design elective is working on a term-long project: designing and presenting a building to a hypothetical client. 

Photography classes at the introductory level have been learning to use applications on their phones, rather than the traditional DSLR camera. “This is obviously not ideal, and something is lost with the limited technology, but the work has been excellent,” said Visual and Studio Art Teacher Timothy Trelease. “Students are working the angles of their current location and finding ways to make art with the source material around them.” 

Mr. Trelease’s AP Photo class has continued their portfolio work from the winter, while Post AP is working to compile the annual Senior Video, a 40-50 minute video that will be shown to the Class of 2020 at some point this year. 

Visual and Performing Arts Teacher Catriona Hynds currently teaches two senior electives in theatre. Her Take to the Stage! course has combined virtual improvisation with scene study and play readings, while her Film Studies elective continues to analyze a variety of cinema. 

“Watching recordings of productions is certainly better than nothing, but recordings simply cannot capture the thrill of live theater, in my opinion,” said Mrs. Hynds.  “There is no substitute for sitting in the dark, watching a story unfold in real time, with three dimensional actors performing a few feet from you.”

Band, orchestra, and chorus students find themselves in a similar position with disciplines that rely on working together as a whole musical ensemble. In the case of band and orchestra, those who have access to instruments have been working with GarageBand and similar platforms to create music online. Those without instruments can focus on music appreciation through TED Talks and related assignments. 

Neha Jampala ’23 said that she likes to track her practice times and assignments through a daily log. “I personally feel that it’s really rewarding to be in a situation where you have a much more flexible time schedule to practice,” said Jampala. “It gives me time to work on things I am interested in.”

Orchestra and Chamber Music Director Thomas Bergeron said that for his Advanced Composition and Analysis course, Zoom has proved very helpful in the classroom, as the course has always been technology-oriented. 

On the other hand, Mr. Bergeron feels a great loss for his Chamber Music course. The magic of all live music is that musicians are able to interact and react to each other to create a cohesive piece of art in the moment.” 

Given this, he added,“In these times of isolation, music is one of the healthiest ways we can engage our minds and spirits in creative ways.”

Much like those in band and orchestra, students in the Chorus program break into sections during class to work on individual parts of a song. The students are currently focusing on creating layered music pieces to release to the Deerfield community, much like their applauded production of  The Beatles’ “Let it Be” earlier this term.

In terms of dance, space is certainly limited for students. The academic dance curriculum is a continuation of synchronous ballet, modern, and contemporary technique classes over Zoom, in which students follow along the best they can, in the spaces they are in. Antonia Forero ’22 said that while dancing in restricted spaces produces a multitude of challenges, she has also sought out opportunities to make the most of the situation. 

“I have worked out more because it’s pretty stationary,” said Forero. “I’ve done dance more mentally, like looking for music and choreographing in my head.” 

Director of Dance Jennifer Whitcomb said, “One of the striking things for me has been watching how these kids have dealt with getting halfway through preparation for the Spring Dance Concert and going away for spring break and planning to come back for those final rehearsal and costuming sessions and having it not happen. What I saw in the first couple weeks was that students were really grieving.”

Given these circumstances, many classes are proposing ideas to keep the spirit of performances, showcases, and galleries alive, albeit in unconventional ways. Senior dancers hope to recreate their Senior Showcase using other mediums. Videography students are preparing for the annual Widdies Film Festival that will be screened online. Various student art pieces can be found on the Bulletin. 

Among all these quandaries, Ms. Whitcomb expressed her gratitude for the Deerfield community’s response in this unprecedented time. “I just see this amazing resiliency,” said Ms. Whitcomb. “We’re all figuring it out and keeping a positive attitude, and knowing that people need us to be strong and good leaders right now—that is what makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning.”