Making Music During COVID

By Wade Butin

Wade Butin is in his 10th year on staff at Providence Classical School. He currently teaches Grammar School music as well as Yearbook and leads our instrumental ensembles. His wife, Laurilyn, teaches our after-school strings program. They have one son, Andrew, who is in 10th grade at PCS.

Uncertainty has become routine lately. Things that have been solid and dependable for years are not as reliable. Jobs, sports, schools, and even the ways in which we relate to others as humans have changed. In many cases, we don’t know what to expect for the future. This could be discouraging, but as Christians, we must remember that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and His plan for our lives is unwavering.

Maryanne Navickas and I have been tasked with revealing the beauty of God through music to the students of PCS. This is still God’s plan for music education at PCS, and we intend to meet that goal with every ounce of energy we possess. Our music program has flourished over the last few years and has required us to adjust constantly to the demands of a high-quality program. This year will be no different. The adjustments may be more extreme, but the goal and our resolve remain consistent. We will continue making beautiful music during COVID!

So, what does music look like at Providence Classical School this year? We hope the following text will help answer any questions you might have about music classes and electives.

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Big Changes

We do not have a dedicated music room this year. The music room is one of the largest rooms on campus and is needed to maintain a safe distance between students for larger class sizes. This presents a massive obstacle for the music staff since the music room was equipped with beautiful décor, several risers for class seating, storage options for instruments and equipment, music theory charts, a music history timeline, a large projector, a top quality sound system, and two pianos. The music teachers, like many of the other teachers this year, are traveling teachers. This is problematic because we don’t have all the equipment to present the history, theory, and performance curriculum as we have traditionally done in past years.

New Tools and Toys

Playing Mozart’s Requiem in the 4th grade classroom on a cell phone speaker or watching Rossini’s opera, The Barber of Seville, in a 2nd grade classroom from a laptop screen is simply not good enough and would not allow us to accomplish our mission. Our answer to this problem was creating Mega Music Carts. Mrs. Fanning has been seen wheeling around the quads from classroom to classroom with her Latin Cart. It seemed it was time to create a musical version.

Since there are two music teachers, there are now two music carts. Both are equipped with professional speakers, mixing boards, piano keyboards, computers, microphones for recording and performing, storage for manipulatives, hand chimes, small xylophones, wireless connectivity to projectors in each classroom, and LED lights for visual effects that the students love. It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. This is true!

With these carts we can do even more than we did in prior years. They can be used to make announcements to a large area or to amplify a wide variety of music players and instruments. They each come equipped with a piano keyboard that can be used in the classroom for teaching. These tools help us as traveling teachers to achieve our goal of teaching the beauty of God through music to our students.

We have had to prepare in other ways to ensure our goal is realized. We use many visual aides to present our curriculum, which usually resides on the walls of the music room. To overcome this obstacle, we have prepared a music folder for every grammar school student from first through sixth grade. These folders have copies of these aides along with the complete music history curriculum, theory exercises, a copy of the hymns we usually sing, and things we will perform this year. These notebooks remain in the classroom. If these items need to be accessed at home, they are all available through Microsoft Teams in the LAMPS section in the music channel. In the event that students need to spend some time at home, they can stay on track through recorded lessons and web-based exercises.

The Grammar School Plan

One of the directives from our Administrative Team has been to start small and grow from there this year. It is better to start with less and grow than the other way around. Given this information, we have a little less time together each week than we normally do. This is not optimal, but we have started here and hopefully will grow to more time during the year as circumstances change.

Our classes are not drastically different than in previous years. We still study the music of the masters and listen to their beautiful works. We continue to teach students to read the language chosen by God for worship, and we teach them to perform music of great quality.

Our current reality does not allow us to gather in large numbers. This makes performing a song together difficult but not impossible. Our plan is to continue our tradition of Christmas and Spring concerts. While it is not possible to have our traditional concerts in the gym this year, we hope to find a way to have a live concert outside if we can distance the performers and the audience. This decision will be made later in the school year. If this is not possible, we can record the classes separately and join them together with software to present a performance digitally. One way or another, we will make it happen.

Building a sense of community with one another is very important to our well-being as a school and as human beings. One of our traditions for the Grammar School has been to sing in the morning. With careful planning, this tradition will continue, even if we are spread all over campus. We look forward to finding new ways to stay connected as a school community.

The Upper School Plan

Our largest ensemble is Cantamus, our Upper School choir, led by Maryanne Navickas. We use all our resources and space to practice and sing safely and continue to learn and perform as a group. All-State auditions for choir through TMEA will take place through recorded auditions for high school students who are interested. As with our Grammar School concerts, Upper School performance material will be recorded and prepared digitally if an outdoor concert is not possible.

Chapel time looks different as well. Even though we are unable to have chapel in person at this time, we are continuing to rehearse music for chapel so that we’ll be ready when the time comes that we can worship together again. Our worship team, made up of Upper School vocalists and instrumentalists, meets before school as an additional elective class. In addition to our pre-recorded chapel messages, we hope to pre-record music that can be streamed to classrooms to keep our classes worshiping together. This process will evolve as the year progresses.

Our Upper School instrumental ensembles also look different. The full handbell choir and brass ensemble will not be meeting. Most of our handbell choir graduated last year, and brass needs some time to replenish the ranks. The handbell tradition will live on in different ways. Students who are passionate will work on special recording projects to aid Grammar School classes. The recorder ensemble will be filled with our advanced younger students. Parts will be learned individually and brought together in person or digitally.

The Adventure of Making Music During COVID

This year will certainly be an adventure. Let’s think of this experience more like a roller coaster ride than a quiet, stable drive across Texas with a GPS that tells us exactly how many miles it is to the next turn, along with a precise arrival time. We might have a few bumps and dips along the way, but the ride will be incredible and exhilarating in the end. We are looking forward to exploring new territory with your students. We pray that God keeps you and your families safe during the 2020-2021 school year at Providence Classical School. Let’s continue making beautiful music together during COVID!

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Psalm 104:33

Wade Butin, a native Houstonian, received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rice University in horn performance. After college, he moved to Hawaii to play horn with the Honolulu Symphony, where he met and married his wife, Laurilyn. They returned to Houston in 2009 along with their only son, Andrew, so that Wade could play with the Houston Symphony. A few years later, he joined the PCS staff, first as Human Resources Director, and later as a music teacher. His current role is teaching Grammar School music and leading several performance-based groups, including a handbell choir and a recorder ensemble. He also co-teaches our Yearbook class.

Wade is very excited to be given the opportunity to teach music to the students at Providence Classical School. His goal is to captivate the students and show them how they can honor and praise God in worship by learning the language of music and its history.

Continue reading the PCS Blog for more information on our school’s Music and Art programs.