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Music education in the age of COVID

So if the paperwork to get you into the practice room is not quite ready, where do you practice?

Hunter Farley, doing some parking lot practicing.

So if the paperwork to get you into the practice room is not quite ready, where do you practice? If you’re 24-year-old graduate student Hunter Farley, you grab a chair and your tuba and head out to the parking lot.

Farley, an incoming tuba performance major at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music, took advantage of the relatively-pleasant-for-August weather to play a one-person symphony on the blacktop, at his apartment building on Greenwood Street near Hinman Avenue.

A Tennessee native and graduate of the University of Memphis, Farley came to Northwestern to get his master’s degree, and to study with Northwestern instructors Gene Pokorny and Matthew Gaunt. Pokorny is the principal tuba with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Gaunt has the same chair with the Milwaukee Symphony, but has also performed with the CSO.

In a normal year, Farley would be in both the classroom and in an ensemble of fellow musicians once school begins next month. This year, however, is anything but normal. Farley’s program will be hybrid — part in-person, and part remote. If you’re wondering how you take tuba lessons online, it’s like everything else these days — on Zoom.

As for the ensembles, they will be smaller than usual, because of social distancing.

Farley is a newlywed. He and his wife Allison were married in Tennessee on March 14. The next day, he says, the state was shut down due to coronavirus, so the couple just made it under the wire.

Farley’s goal is to be like his Northwestern instructors — play in a symphony and teach at a university. (He already has a couple of years’ experience teaching in a K-12 school in his home state). A more immediate goal — if the coronavirus lets up and restrictions are loosened — is to perform with other tuba players in an “Oktubafest” and also in an all-tuba Christmas concert.

And if those concerts can’t be held indoors because of COVID, no problem. Farley is pretty comfortable in the parking lot.

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Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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