To write that Covid was terrible for all educational programming, colleges and universities would be an understatement and perhaps not always true, so I won’t write that. Instead, I will write this: Covid forced educational programming, colleges and universities to decide whether or not they were willing and able to pivot; constantly. Those who were fortunate and creative enough to be willing and able are still open for enrollment. In fact, many admission offices are slammed with more student applicants than ever before. You can guess why….
Here I will share with you what I learned from individuals ‘in the know’ at two well respected local powerhouses of education in the area: Manhattanville College and Music Conservatory of Westchester.
“Streaming” was a common theme throughout our conversations; ranging from online performances and lessons to seminars and jam sessions, teachers and peers alike watched their audiences grow larger and larger as the viewers increased. Allowing their communities to access this functionality throughout the entire pandemic, in addition to equipping them with the proper toolbelt to do so, is truly a tribute to their dedication to education and unwavering ability to pivot. And pivot well. Enrollment and application numbers are healthier than ever!
Manhattanville College: Nurturing a Hub of ‘Intellectual Culture”
Clocking in at 180 years old (est. 1841), Manhattanville College is a private, liberal arts college offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in Purchase, New York. Music, Studio Arts, Dance, Musical Theater, and Theater are just a few of the programs offered here. Olivier Fluchaire, D.M.A. Division Chair & Associate Professor of Music at the school took some time to chat with me about what life at Manhattanville College has been like over the last 18 plus months; his life, his students’ lives, and his faculty’s well-being as well.
“Our 70-member expert faculty in the Fine and Performing Arts Division stood as one, caring and engaging our students through this excruciating year,” said Dr. Fluchaire, “never allowing instruction to be altered and continuing our endeavor to deliver a tailored, individual education, while sharing our devotion to intellectual culture and the fine and performing arts.”
Enrollment for the Fine and Performing Arts at Manhattanville College started a little later than normal this year with the majority of applications received during the spring semester instead of the fall because no one knew what school was going to be like this fall. However, once that unknown fear initially subsided, Manhattanville witnessed a 25% increase in deposits for the fall of 2021, compared to last year’s enrollment rate.
While some staff was familiar with the new demands of computer integration into the classroom, plenty of professors had to learn some new skills. After all, just because you are a professional singer doesn’t mean that you know how to turn a zoom call into a “gallery” view. Art galleries went from on-foot to in-pixel and video editing became just as important as posting to social media accounts across multiple platforms. This massive new online presence is certainly to blame for the uptick in enrollment. Staff adapted, upgraded their skills, and also grew in numbers as additional and new talent was necessary.
Auditions at Manhattanville are very stringent and require three different videos from different works or three different paintings, dances, etc. Because everything was done online, with all live auditions canceled, applicants had to upload their video submissions, there was an added layer of difficulty for some of the students; or so, they thought. BUT more applicants and email inquiries than ever gave proof through the pandemic that their school was still there.
Dr. Fluchaire credits online word of mouth, students having time at home, behind the scenes tapings, and a devoted community as some of the gold tokens to take away. Programs here will keep up this aspect of streaming as much as possible regardless of where the teaching takes place moving forward. It was THAT impactful. Nice pivot.
Music Conservatory of Westchester: Intensive Training and Stand Out Students
Clocking in at 92 years old (est. 1929), the Music Conservatory of Westchester provides quality music education for students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, with one-on-one instruction, performing ensembles, theory, composition, early childhood classes, lifelong learning for adults, and free community performances. Adriana Rivera, Manager of Communications & Marketing at MCW, spent time highlighting excellence within their community and a few remarkable students who are about to set forth on some incredible new beginnings.
MCW offers an intensive pre-college training program for talented high school instrumentalists and singers called MCW Prep. Similar to the other programming, these students too are selected by audition. Students enrolled in the program are offered a unique opportunity to study with master performers of the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. There is no other program in the New York State region that offers the chance for high school students to study with master teachers of this caliber.
Korliss Uecher, a soprano with the Metropolitan Opera and teacher at MCW Prep, didn’t seem to miss a beat with students who were graduating and ready to move in to the next chapter of their musical career. With the new inclusion of virtual lessons/ portals on their website and technology assistance as well, all aspects of the organization are churning out award-winning students whose academic achievements are also attributed to their study of music.
Two stand-out students that took this opportunity and experience, and who are about to set forth on new beginnings, are Palani DeMario and Ava Gallo-Grosskreuz. Both freshly graduated from high school during the most difficult of times and are ready to spread their talent and love for the fine and performing arts.
Palani is 18-years-old graduating from New Rochelle High School; a musical theater/pop singer who will be attending American Musical & Dramatic Academy in Fall 2021, Palani lives with his single mother who immigrated from Haiti. His mother is disabled, and Palani is the caretaker for her and two younger siblings. He sings in his school’s Select Choir and plays guitar.
Ava is also 18-years-old graduating from Hopewell Junction High School; a jazz/pop/contemporary singer, Ava will be attending Belmont University in Nashville to study in the Music Industry Program in Fall 2021.
So we conclude: Artists, Performers, Creators-alike burst with the type of passion that could never be silenced; not even by a pandemic. Driven by devotion, perseverance, art, and music, Manhattanville College and the Music Conservatory of Westchester not only survived but thrived. In the newly famous words of Eric Ries,“a pivot is a change in strategy without a change in vision.” Applause to a Proper Pivot.