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Who Says You Can’t Attend a Festival This Year?

By Mike Lawson

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For music educators still teaching and rehearsing online, you might be “Zoomed out.” Even so, you have to appreciate the creativity that’s gone into converting traditional experiences into programs that work in today’s virtual world. From virtual field trips and master classes to virtual concerts and camps, you can do anything and go anywhere from the comfort of your home.

The organizations music educators partner with have done quite a bit of pivoting to support us during this time. World-famous venue Carnegie Hall provided free master classes and educational videos through its performing partners and enabled us to see a concert from our couch through its Live with Carnegie Hall series. Little Kids Rock, a non-profit focused on innovating music education in schools, took their popular Jam Zone method virtual to support kids learning to play a new instrument and even offered open mic nights especially for educators. WorldStrides, the largest student travel company in the U.S., began offering their popular Heritage Festival competitions in a virtual format. Organizations like NAfME, ACDA, and countless others went above and beyond to collate lesson plans, webinars, remote teaching support, and a myriad of free resources to support educators and performers during this time.

“We weren’t sure that groups would feel ready to compete in today’s environment, but it’s been so much more than we expected,” said Marion Gomez, who normally runs the WorldStrides’ Carnegie Hall events each spring, of the ways the organization has pivoted in the past year. “We’ve created an incredibly popular online speaker series called In the Teachers’ Lounge. We’ve even worked with past travelers to create our own virtual choir. But the Virtual Festival Series really has been the most out of the box for us.”   

One participating music director reported, “I really liked the positive and inclusive nature of the awards ceremony. Every group was recognized, and that provides great support for all of our programs during this difficult time.” WorldStrides made great efforts to make their new Virtual Festival Series as closely aligned as possible to the Heritage Festival events that customers had come to know and love – providing an educationally rich experience, meaningful feedback from renowned adjudicators, and, of course, a celebration of the winners.

“We know there’s nothing like the real thing, and we can’t wait to get back to in-person festivals next season, but we’ve really enjoyed working with directors on this virtual version of our festival,” Marion said. “Overwhelmingly, the most common feedback we hear from Directors is ‘wow, my students really needed something to look forward to’, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide that kind of positive experience, even during a pandemic.”

The Virtual Festival Series offers added flexibility to groups not yet performing together in-person. Groups may submit virtually recorded and produced videos (which compete in a category on their own). With the same adjudication philosophy and high standards of integrity, participating ensembles can expect the same level of pride as they would winning at a regular festival. In May, WorldStrides will close out its Virtual Festival Series with the Grand Finale Festival, a virtual festival promising world-class clinician, bonuses like student workshops and a private master class for every group, plus surprise guests at the festival’s virtual awards celebration. Sign-ups have already begun, and the company is looking forward to closing out the school year with a bang.

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