TEACHING DURING A PANDEMIC: Silas Huff

TEACHING+DURING+A+PANDEMIC%3A+Silas+Huff

photo courtesy of Silas Huff

Since March 14, Washburn Director of Orchestras Silas Huff has been living on a cot in Santa Fe, New Mexico, working his part-time position as Army officer and Commander of the 44th Army National Guard Band.

Huff is currently working alongside state and federal agencies to fight the spread of COVID-19 and help those affected by the disaster.

“We get food delivered to food banks, and children who usually get their lunches at school, and medical supplies to hospitals and emergency operation centers all over New Mexico,” said Huff.

Huff continues to teach his students from the Army base.

“Between my 12-hour shifts in New Mexico – I teach Orchestra, String Orchestra, Conducting and Enjoyment of Music at Washburn,” said Huff.

The director and part-time officer admitted that he takes a different approach to each of his classes.

There are specific classes that are easier to transition to the online environment – while others provide several hoops to jump through because of the non-existence of being able to access specific equipment on Washburn’s campus.

“Orchestra and String Orchestra are the hardest to teach,” said Huff. “These are activities that cannot be performed online [and] the other Washburn ensemble directors and I have had to get very creative.”

Internet communications provide issues for live orchestra.

“Because of the delay and inherent lag with online video communications – the students cannot play together live,” said Huff. “The students practice specific excerpts of music and upload recordings of themselves. I review the recordings and give individual feedback. [The idea is to] create a ‘virtual orchestra’ performance at the end of the semester.”

Huff explained how a “virtual orchestra performance” can be done.

“Each student will record their individual part separately in sync with a master video,” said Huff. “We will edit those individual videos together into a virtual performance.”

This will be difficult and require video editing experience, but Huff says it’s part of the new reality we’re living in.

“We are only a couple of weeks into this new reality – we are all learning how to make it work together right now,” said Huff. “We are adapting, making the best of a bad situation and figuring it out together.”

Huff’s two worlds collide as he manages several tasks throughout the day.

“In the videos, I’m wearing my Army uniform because I’m either on duty or finishing a shift,” said Huff.

Mallory Lysaught, junior music education major, is enrolled in Huff’s Orchestra, String Orchestra and Beginning Conducting courses.

Lysaught stated the hardest thing for her is finding time to practice the violin.

“I live with my family which means there are eight other people in the house,” said Lysaught. “I used to find time between classes or around lunch time to go into the practice room on campus. Now I’m in a house with eight people that could be making distracting noises – it affects my focus when I’m trying to work on music.”

The nine-person household including six kids, two parents and a grandmother has required more than just one adjustment, according to Lysaught.

“Three of us are in college and have Zoom classes and my two high school siblings also have Zoom classes or YouTube videos they need to watch,” said Lysaught. “This causes a Wi-Fi problem. When the stay-at-home order was announced, we had to upgrade our Wi-Fi.”

Dalton Imhoff-Brey, a junior trumpet performace major, agrees that the music department, and its faculty, is making the best out of the situation.

“Recordings are nowhere near as good as live sound, but it is the best we can do in this situation,” said Imhoff-Brey. “Director Huff and the other faculty were able to do some amazing things and get this figured out so we could still be productive.”

However, there are musical environments on Washburn’s campus that are greatly missed — and just can not be replicated inside a home.

“I miss being able to play in different spaces,” said Imhoff-Brey. “Playing in the concert hall, band room, practice rooms and the small ensemble rooms all produce different sounds [and effects].”

It’s apparent that COVID-19 has caused the music department, its faculty and its students, to make several sacrifices to continue operating this semester.

Here you can find a Google Drive collection of photos of the New Mexico Army base. Photos taken by Sergeant Taylor Coleman, Sergeant Orlando Guerrero and Army Commander Huff.

Edited by Hannah Alleyne, Joelle Conway

Writer bio: Wesley Tabor, (913) 980-4289, [email protected] is a senior mass media major with an emphasis in contemporary journalism. He plans to finish his degree requirements in August 2020.