Few music organisations have responded with such clarity to the COVID-19 situation as the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB). All face-to-face examining administered by the organisation stopped when the national lockdown began in March, but immediately it went about finding ways to help music teachers around the country whom it discovered urgently wanting advice on how manage their teaching.
Not least were questions about how to shift lessons online and how to navigate the technology involved in that. AMEB CEO’s Bernard Depasquale describes the situation as having been a call to rescue. “When things went into lockdown, we became keenly aware of teachers’ needs and their passion to keep teaching their students.”
“So we put together a webinar series with two aims in mind. One was practical advice on how to go about how to give lessons online, and the other was creating a forum which would bring people together in a space to chat together and share experiences.”
Resulting from this was a 13-part webinar series, Break The Isolation, and episodes have talked about a range of topics including how to set up online teaching, and how to teach piano, strings and singing online. They’ve been greatly popular, says Depasquale.
“Some of the most popular webinars had over 1,000 enrolled in them and received over 3,000 views on our website and on YouTube. They are all designed to help teachers through this social distancing period and have been super successful. Other episodes have been how to look after wellbeing during isolation, which was hosted by Greta Bradman, on keeping Indigenous languages alive with Candace Kruger, and how to look after tax affairs for music teachers, which is especially relevant at this time.”
Break The Isolation went live between 25 March and 9 June, but all the episodes can be viewed again for free on the AMEB’s website.
The AMEB also took a bold decision to make its Online Theory Courses available for free until June 30, and a staggering 41,000-plus people have registered for these. Depasquale ascribes this to people’s increased leisure time during the lockdown period and a desire to take lessons.
“A lot of people have bought musical instruments during these months, and this has flowed onto an interest in learning theory,” he says.
“We’ve wanted to do make these lessons free as a gift for people in a difficult time. Normally we might expect 100 registrations a month, so we are pretty happy about the response. Anything to increase musical literacy we see as a good thing.”
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More problematic has been how to conduct examinations over the present period. But here again, the AMEB has wanted to make things as helpful and easy as possible. Practical exams now take place by students submitting recordings of their performances and having these assessed.
Other more interactive examinations, in which the examiners need to ask the student questions, are taking place via conferencing software.
“These are obviously more complicated because interactive in various ways, and may involve a Zoom-type meeting to interview the student on aural and general knowledge. We are trying to replicate these as close as we can to the normal physical experience,” Depasquale says.
“There’s been a reasonable take-up of repertoire exams, but some people are delaying face-to-face exams right now. Nevertheless, we are trying to minimise that as much as we can. Obviously different states have different restrictions on what is permissible, and for some states we have taken on trials for returning to in-person exams.”
The AMEB has also been able to make advances during this time in the area of licencing. One of the obstacles faced by music teachers in conducting online lessons is what to do about sharing copyrighted material with their students. This year AMEB has gained what is called a ‘Screen Sharing Copyright Clearance Licence’, which enables copyrighted material in AMEB publications to be shared for such purposes whilst protecting the rights of publishers and composers. “We’re just trying to make everything as easy as possible,” says Depasquale.
Application forms to participate in this shared licensing arrangement are available here.