Voice Students Win During Covid

We are now more than six months into the global pandemic, and we can see various patterns emerging. Some are frightening, some are positive and some may be setting trends for our future beyond this crisis. Clearly, we see unprecedented devastation of the performing arts industry: large, established artist management companies like Columbia Artists Management have been forced to cease operation, not to mention bankrupted opera companies, orchestras and thousands of outstanding freelance artists lost all work. 

Institutions have lost scores of students who decided that virtual training was not what they’ve signed up for, thus leaving many educators jobless. This goes on of course, but are there any positives? We know that there has been a positive impact on the environment and in some instances improved quality of life for those who can now work from home. Another positive trend that is emerging and perhaps will continue to develop beyond the crisis is equity created by the online environment.

While it is true that inequity is also being created through unequal access to technology, appropriate work spaces and so on, never before has it been so easy and affordable for a voice student to attend conferences, masterclasses, voice lessons with outstanding professionals all over the world, international auditions and competitions. It is now equally easy to audition for the most prestigious Young Artist programs, Summer Schools and other training opportunities. There are no flight or hotel expenses to worry about, no loss of income due to work conflicts and no visa concerns. The student participation fees for conferences, competitions and masterclasses have also reduced dramatically. 

The result is increased equity and soaring student participation numbers. Both CS Music and NATS reported a significant increase in student participation in their competitions, masterclasses and conferences. In my own music department, located in central California, we have been able to create unprecedented opportunities for our voice students. They have been able to take online voice lessons with a renowned voice teacher in New York and are about to take part in a series of vocal masterclasses with various guest artists from all over the country. Some of our students were able to attend national conferences for the first time. It is ironic that this devastating crisis has brought so many new opportunities to talented students from remote and underserved areas. 

It is important to learn from this experience and think to the future beyond COVID. We now know that we can teach, learn, compete, audition and develop as artists in the virtual world. While all of us are eager to resume our normal lives and get back to the concert hall, my great hope is that the online component does not disappear all together and will continue its development. Online platforms are a wonderful technology that is keeping us going as well as we can right now and is opening so many doors for our young singers. The online participation option in conferences, competitions and masterclasses should continue beyond COVID. If not, we are risking shutting out thousands of talented singers. 

Lastly: young singers and their schools should take note and jump on this bandwagon right now! It really kills two birds with one stone: students receive unprecedented training opportunities which in turn create new employment opportunities for outstanding artists who are currently out of work. Educators should be aware that creating these teaching options right now is critical in order to support our struggling performers. If we work together – everybody wins. How wonderful is it to give such unprecedented industry insight and connections to our students? Let’s not miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime to develop our singers and to support our industry professionals!

Dr. Maria Briggs

Dr. Briggs-Okunev is a Russian-born, Australian soprano. She has a Bachelor degree in piano performance, Sydney Conservatorium of Music; Masters in vocal performance, Newcastle Conservatorium and DMA in opera, Sydney University and Northern College of Music, UK. Dr. Briggs’ research is focused on training of young opera singers tertiary opera training. Dr. Briggs has sung with Opera Australia, Pacific Opera and Glyndebourne Opera Festival, UK. She joined Fresno State in 2016 as Assistant Professor of Voice. www.okunevmusic.com