Using the Virtual Studio to Create International Connections
Like other courses across the University of Minnesota, Fernando Meza’s Percussion Studio Class had to adapt to an online format when COVID-19 interrupted the semester. Meza is adjusting to the absence of being in the same place by giving students a unique experience: creating international connections for his students in the new virtual environment. He reached out to colleagues across the world and invited them to join class meetings for informal conversation. “Spending some time with these individuals allows my students the opportunity to get to know important members of our profession that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet,” Meza explains.
Guest speakers come from around the world, including Greece, Norway, Canada, Japan, Brazil, and Germany. Their professions range from solo and chamber artists to orchestral players, composers, and master educators in the field. Student Bjorn Grina, (MM, percussion performance), enjoys the new format because “we're having some incredibly valuable conversations with these percussionists around the world.” His favorite class moment was when Russian-Greek percussionist Theo Milkov shared the importance of having an idea of what you want and going all-in on it. “For me, this was a really powerful statement and a reminder for all of us to reconnect with our passions on a regular basis.”
On Wednesday, April 22, the studio welcomed Ivana Bilic from Croatia, an internationally known marimba artist. Like Meza, Bilic is also a teacher and is adapting to the online format as well. Bilic’s advice to the percussion students was “keep imagining, and keep growing with what you have.” She advised the students to continue work and study in an alternative way and enjoy the outdoors when studying.
Meza’s favorite moments are when students realize that these professionals’ paths are not singular, they each have their own journey that is the result of hard work and preparation. A recent guest shared that a gift can emerge out of adversity. Meza believes the gift he found is ”to use this platform in the future to bring the world here more often.”
The classroom connections have also yielded collaborations. In recent weeks, Mackenna Tolfa (BMus, percussion performance), worked with students from the Universidad de Costa Rica, Fernando Meza, and U of M percussionists to create and edit “Cherry Limeade,” a piece featuring adapted household items creatively turned into instruments.
Meza acknowledges there are losses in the virtual classroom. “The energy and the nuance of sharing in the same place is obviously absent when you are simply speaking to your computer and not having the personal interaction on-site with your student.” While Grina agrees, he also points out that “we would never have had the opportunity to bring percussionists from around the world into our studio class three times a week for a full semester.”