Doing a performing arts degree from home

Sophie’s orchestral performance course has been severely disrupted by the pandemic. She talks about the challenges of performing over video calls and recording her performance, but shares some of the skills and lessons she’s developed as part of that process. She describes further setbacks, including a loss of income from both performing and her part-time job, and having to move home, and reflects on the state of the music industry.

Sophie shares the challenges of studying an orchestral performance course during the pandemic, when she’s been unable to gather with her coursemates.

Video transcript

Hi, my name is Sophie, and I'm going to talk about why studying a performing arts degree has been so much more difficult during the pandemic. I'm going to talk about managing a practical course online, losing my paid work as a performer and in performance venues, and the challenge of moving back home.

When you're a performing arts student, you're learning how to perform, whether that's playing an instrument or singing, or acting or dancing. And these are often really collaborative practices that are really difficult to recreate effectively online. For example, I study on a course called orchestral artistry, which is specifically designed to give me tuition and experience of performing in an orchestra. But orchestras haven't been allowed in the same room for almost a year. So how am I meant to get the same experience.

Institutions have been doing their very best to give us the same level of tuition. But when you can't be in the same room, it just isn't the same. There have been a few performances with technology and social distancing. But they have their own challenges to deal with as well, that don't really effectively recreate the same experience of performing in the same room as a big group of people all sat close together. A lot of us have also had to learn how to record ourselves and fork out for expensive recording equipment, which is a useful skill, but it still costs money.

It's really hard not to feel like practical courses and performing arts degrees have lost out more than other university degrees that can be more effectively delivered online. Having said that, this time has been a useful opportunity to really focus on my own practice and performance skills, and use it as a time to focus on myself. I also had to learn how to do things like working with a backing track, or multi tracking using technology to create art and create music on my own. However, it is really important that we take time to look after ourselves and not put too much pressure on ourselves to work as hard as possible, which I think is something that everyone has experienced whether that's to do with learning how to make the best bread, go to the gym lots, I think performing arts students have felt a lot of pressure to be working on our craft as hard as possible. But it's a global pandemic, it's okay to take a break and just have, have time off.

Another challenge that a lot of performing arts students have faced is that we often work part time in the industry while studying and venues and performances have just completely shut down. Personally, I lost my job working in a performance venue. I also lost all of my paid performance work, which has then had a knock on effect not only on my finances, but on my experience as a musician. And of course, we've had to continue paying course fees, and rent. But we've lost income. Thankfully, lots of organizations have been providing emergency funding to musicians. So it's worth taking a look online to see what's available and I started teaching online, working remotely. And there are some people who actually are going to continue working remotely. So it's worth giving things like that ago, because what have we got to lose.

Having to move back home also had a massive effect on me mentally, it was such a shock to the system to have to go from living my best life on a course I worked really hard to get on to, to going back home and working as a dishwasher in a hospital canteen in Llanelli, just to make ends meet. It was especially hard that the industry that I love, as I know it, just shut down and it felt like there was no hope, there was no way out. It just seemed like the industry had just stopped.

However, things are getting better. There are performances happening. And the music industry is so resilient. Because the people in the industry are so passionate. And music is so essential, and so loved and you know, creative arts in general, are not just going to go away, we will always be here. It will be a struggle. It will be difficult, but it's always going to survive. It will always be here.

I'm so pleased that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. But I think performing arts students and the industry as a whole needs to be better supported. We contribute so much to the economy and to culture. And we just bring so much joy to people's lives and I think that should be more appreciated, especially after the year we've all had. The performing arts industry is about expression, connection and entertainment and with what's happened during this pandemic, I think we can all appreciate that a little bit more.