As we progress through a phased re-opening of schools, we are faced with another round of re-establishing a sense of routine. Evidently, lockdown 3.0 has been one of the most difficult. However, businesses across the country have found innovative ways to adapt and obtain a high level of service throughout these uncertain times. As children return to their friends, teachers, and classrooms, there is the hope that this frightening and overwhelming time is almost behind them. According to The Irish Times, over 2,000 children and young people are awaiting care from Child and Adolescent Mental Services (CAMS). There has been recognition from the government of the necessity for programmes addressing mental health and one of these included a text line 50808, for those struggling during this time. However, children will continue to adapt and, in most cases, have adapted better than adults ever could. Throughout the pandemic, we all turned to the arts in some way. From sitting on the couch for ten hours at a time watching reruns of Friends or Bridgerton, to listening to music, reading books, or possibly playing music. One company who has transformed their work ethic and developed a successful online programme is Rock Jam School from Co. Dublin.
Rock Jam was founded in 2013 by Baz Rycraft with the aim to bring young aspiring musicians together to jam and feel inspired by creative music making, Baz says “I think back to when I was a teenager and what I would’ve really loved to do and that is basically what I aim to achieve with the school”. The ethos of the school is to allow any child interested in performance, to have the accessibility to it, in the most fun way possible. Prior to the pandemic, the classes would consist of hour-long slots in studios full of instruments for the students to experiment with and build a knowledge of each medium. As the year groups progress, students would then engage with jam sessions. “You can imagine, it was pretty chaotic, completely different to the situation we are in now”. However, Baz informs me that they were very quick to adapt to online content and have been considering new forms of music performance, teaching and live technology for a while. “I have a great interest in electronic music and we have introduced students to this kind of technology before in summer camp modules,” says Baz. “We are lucky that all our teachers are computer literate and we have been using apps such as Garageband before Covid. I also did a lot of research into programmes to engage with new ways of our students playing together”. Rock Jam has a range of teachers who facilitate classes in numerous different instruments and vocals. “We are a co-op of musicians and we are also able to work alone. There is never a sense of a tiered managing system within the company”. Rock Jam also produced numerous live band recitals and gigs before the pandemic.
Documenting student’s progress can be a daunting process in a “real-life” session and moving this process online can be even more challenging. Numerous pupils will either sit the Leaving Certificate this summer or take the opportunity of the new estimated grade system. Many of these students will aspire for a career in the performing arts and the workload, standard and admission process has not changed. Brian Anthony Byrne teaches guitar, ukulele, and bass at Rock Jam. “I found moving online challenging at first due to the technical issues but this has been resolved over time”. Although the process of teaching has been altered, the content has not; “It is a manner of continuity in the notes you give the students week to week. Usually I work off of the musical aims and passions of the students to give me an idea of how to go about the class content,” says Brian. “My job is to get them to that goal”. For any educator, the passion comes from the need to inspire and aid a student to reach their ambitions and possibly to third level in their chosen discipline. Brian’s former student is now studying music in DCU; “most of the classes I had with him was in person, so we were lucky in that sense, with the last classes online being more to continue contact” says Brian “I am now teaching a student fully online with the same end goal. I am aware of the standard for the audition process and the content is still the same, I know what is expected of him”. Technology can be a nuisance for all of us at times, with constant lags, internet connections, or miscommunicated tasks. Brian has worked through these challenges by providing supplemental videos of homework or any requests made by the students regarding the content. “I also ask my students to record their homework and send it to me before the class-time. This means I can give notes effectively”. Although there have been some mixed feelings at times towards the online classes, Brian is confident that students are now comfortable and enjoying this new way of learning.
Mental Health and Music
“The regularity of something to go to every week is something that has helped students a lot” says Aiden Murphy, a teacher with Rock Jam. Aidan teaches flute, guitar, and runs the “Ukulele License” free live stream session twice a week. I asked Aidan about the importance of music classes for children’s mental health at this time. “Everyone is in the same boat. With the younger years you can tell that it is a novelty to have someone on a screen talking to them. I think there is also the factor of someone talking to them and to interact with on a social level.”
As numerous children and young people struggle with different levels of learning difficulties or other extra educational needs, it has come to the attention of educators online, of the necessity to prevent the regression or loss of confidence for these students; “There are no shortcuts anymore. You need to be really clear on camera and change tact at any moment” Aidan states. “It’s their space and you are adapting for the situation you have over zoom”. As we eventually return to the ‘new normal’ and the possibility of studio classes once again, I asked Aidan how he feels this has influenced his teaching practise going forward; “I am surprised at how well it went. We ran a series of school workshops which were a great success. I think it really suits some families and their schedules and it could possibly be something that is used in the future, mixed in with real life class time”.
Where to Find RockJam
You can find all the information regarding the school at www.rockjam.com, as well as their Facebook, Instagram and YouTube platforms. They will be running a series of summer camps from June onwards, in four different locations. There is still availability in one to one tuition, as well as a free online stream called the “Ukulele License”.