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The Student’s Perspective

On Music and Covid-19 at Nottingham University 

A young boy engaging with an online tuition business via laptop

Covid-19 has altered the operations of the music and performing arts industry on a mass scale. Yet, approaches towards the challenges that Covid-19 restrictions present us with are varying in method and success.

Whilst guidelines remain murky, some universities must find their own ways of ensuring that regulations are met and well-being is put first without sacrificing the ongoing learning and activities of their students. To understand the student perspective we spoke with a third-year undergraduate Music student and president of Blowsoc at Nottingham University, Ollie Cowling, about his experience of studying music and arranging music events and rehearsals during Covid-19.

What roles do you have at Nottingham University?  

“I’m President of Blowsoc (wind, brass, and percussion society). I conduct our concert band and I’m the assistant conductor of Wind Orchestra in Blowsoc. In Mussoc, our sister society, I conduct Sinfonia, which is an auditioned orchestra”. 

What are your career goals and how do you think Covid-19 will impact them? 

My career goal is to become a conductor, hopefully through doing an MA in conducting. It could either be a positive or a negative. It might mean that it takes an extra year to get onto a conducting course but it may mean that there is less competition so that could work to my advantage”.  

To what extent do you feel that your studies and activities at university have been a struggle due to Covid-19 restrictions? 

“Towards the end of last year was a challenge because no plans were put in place before the pandemic hit, so it was all a bit difficult to know what was going on and some modules needed to be adapted part-way through. All societies just stopped, so that had a massive impact. Raising money for charity ceased which was a real loss. I remember our penultimate Lunchtime concert of the year which was on the day that we received the email from the Vice-Chancellor about in-person activities stopping. The audience was much smaller than usual which we thought was down to the fears surrounding Covid-19. Our final concert was three days later”. 

“This year, plans are being put in place from the beginning to deal with how teaching will work. I don’t think we’ll be missing out on much content, it’ll just be a bit weird staying at home most of the time rather than going out. With the rule of 6, most in-person activities have been suspended, so our rehearsals can’t take place even if we try to put measures in place to make them Covid-19 secure. The rules seem to be different for sports clubs. They can train outside but there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding rehearsals outside. The rules in place mean in-person performances may not be possible, which is a loss to our audience, to the community, and a loss of experience for the students involved”. 

What measures are being taken to ensure that teaching and societies can resume? 

“Teaching is done both online and in-person. Asynchronous teaching has been taken up for lectures, so it’s done in our own time and then in rooms limited to certain numbers for seminars. Social distancing regulations have been put in place and masks are worn by students and visors by lecturers. 

Societies are largely online now. We arranged an ‘Online-aganza’ in which we played a selection of the music from the Pixar movie ‘Up’. It was an extremely successful video raising £1,635 for Teenage Cancer Trust and has been viewed 24,000 times on our Facebook page! Blowsoc is doing online rehearsals with four of our five small ensembles. To begin with, there were concerns about how it would work in halls of residence as we don’t want to cause disruptions or noise complaints. However, after trialling the rehearsals with our Clarinet ensemble we feel more confident about online rehearsals. We could possibly roll this out for our other larger ensembles but we are yet to determine the logistics of that”. 

What Covid-19 measures do you feel involve some uncertainty? 

“We feel generally certain of the guidelines put in place by the SU but we are finding it frustrating that many of the sports clubs have different guidelines that allow them to resume activities more easily. Regulations seem to be largely dependent on what each university decides using government guidelines. These guidelines seem uneven at times”.

How difficult is it to plan and schedule your timetable currently? 

“Quite difficult because we are trying to stay as active as we can as a society but don’t want it to become monotonous. My teaching timetable is relatively sparse but the amount of work I have to do outside of teaching means that I can spend the whole day from 11 am to midnight pretty much in front of the computer”. 

Are there some creative or innovative approaches being taken to teaching that allow your learning to resume despite restrictions? If so, what are these approaches? 

“The only innovative thing really is the use of Microsoft Teams for in-person teaching to allow those who cannot come for whatever reason to still participate”. 

How do you think learning and societies can continue to move forwards? 

“Societies will hopefully be allowed to operate with measures in place but for now we will have to stick to online events and try to keep them interesting. So far, I like the asynchronous element to teaching as it allows you to work at your own pace and return to things you might have missed, so I would like to keep some of the teaching online but maybe have in-person tutorials/workshops/seminars to discuss things. Although, this might not work for other courses”. 

Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances that the Covid-19 pandemic has created, what do you feel are the main challenges that music and the performing arts face? 

“The fact that other industries seem to be taking priority and the government seems hesitant to give reliable advice or additional funding without being asked to. A lot of the advice seems to be wrong or misleading. Some research suggests that wind instruments aren’t high risk whilst others argue that it is dependent on the instrument. Why haven’t clearer regulations surrounding reliable research on these activities been enforced?”. 

Playing a musical instrument has clear benefits to an individual’s progression and mental health, but performances and rehearsals are a struggle due to current allowances. It is essential that the health benefits of regular exercise and sports are measured when assessing guidelines, but the advantages of music must also be considered. Clarity and coherence are necessary for music to exist on university campuses and in our lives, and certain regulations may be due a re-evaluation to determine their accuracy and suitable severity. As this example and others have proven, technology appears to be the most successful means of keeping the music community alive. Further digitized variations on musical rehearsals and performances must continue to prevail for music education to remain in a Covid-19 world.  


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