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Harmony through Technology: How Loyola’s Orchestra Classes Find Unity When Apart

When Loyola Academy adopted a hybrid schedule to maximize in-person learning, teachers went above and beyond to make the new model work for students. Director of Orchestras Mr. Patrick Rustandi knew that achieving harmony, even while apart, was essential for his music students. He has since made the most of the hybrid schedule with the help of a carefully curated selection of applications and software that creates a feeling of cohesion and unity, whether at-home or in-person, among the budding musicians in his classes.
Rustandi utilizes a number of apps to help him conduct at-home and in-person learners at the same time. This enables his students to get the full experience of music class—even under the current teaching and learning restrictions. Rustandi’s smart use of technology has created a balance between at-home and on-campus learning that has greatly benefited his students.  

“Mr. Rustandi’s use of technology enables us to adapt to the situation that we are in. It helps us understand techniques to use and it allows us to become more independent in our understanding of the music,” reflects Honors Orchestra student Katie Bennett ’22. “It also shows that he cares a lot for his students and that he is trying his absolute best to make us the best students we can be during the pandemic.”

So how exactly does Rustandi get a string trio or quartet to make beautiful music when half the students are at home and the other half are in person? In this scenario, he uses the Upbeat Music app. “As an alternative to the Zoom platform, students can collaborate, practice and record their music in real time,” he explains. 

If students need to record a portion of the music and then share it with others, Rustandi turns to the Flipgrid app. “I give students enough time to prepare a technical portion of a piece, and after submission we can all evaluate best practices,” he says. Another benefit to Flipgrid? It can be used as an assessment tool without student collaboration. 

And then there are apps like Smartmusic, Bennett’s personal favorite because it provides features like a metronome to help students play up to speed, and Finale, which enables students to practice the music along with the correct notes and rhythms. While Smartmusic focuses on a particular section of the orchestra, Finale displays all parts of the score so students can hear the other parts in the background while they perform their own. 

Rustandi explains that students still have access to Zoom and its more traditional features like pre-recorded videos and breakout rooms, which he uses during group sectionals. “After I record all the parts of a difficult piece, I use the breakout room option to share a video while students play in the background as I conduct,” he says. 

Amanda Rajkovich '22 is a junior in Mr. Rustandi's honors orchestra class. She says the pre-recorded videos help the class learn their music as thoroughly as before. "In many ways, the use of technology during e-learning has pushed me to become more independent in learning new music," she notes. "I think the orchestra as a whole has been encouraged to learn from each other as much as possible."

His flexible use of technology has brought Rustandi’s students a semblance of normalcy during a very unusual year. “It’s so important for a musical community to have a sense of connection, especially nowadays,” adds Bennett. “I think that our orchestra has become a talented and collected unit of student musicians who, even during the pandemic, have become more bonded than ever with each other in the most welcoming atmosphere that any school orchestra could have.”

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