During a time where so many of us have been unable to do the things we love, recent UF Master of Music in Music Education graduate Rocio Rodriguez found a way to bring the joy of singing to her students from home. A general music specialist at an elementary school in El Paso, Texas, Rodriguez has been teaching an after-school choir program for several years. In spite of the recent restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodriguez’s continued to hold choir rehearsals through Zoom.
Alicia: What inspired you to pursue music education?
Rocio: My first goal was actually to become an opera singer. My bachelor’s degree is in voice performance from the University of Texas in El Paso. I have been involved in music my whole life since I come from a family of musicians. When I went to college, I was very excited. I had wonderful teachers. I also met my husband there, and we got married.
After getting married, we were contemplating moving away to pursue our careers or to stay in Texas. At the time I had started to teach a little bit as a private teacher, and then I taught at private charter schools, and I fell in love with teaching. I was like, “Wow this is awesome!” I loved the kids and working with them, and I started teaching choir. I also started teaching the El Paso youth choir for a couple of years, and I fell in love with it. And it’s not that I didn’t want to pursue my career in opera, but everything that I learned in voice performance I also applied to teaching—expression, singing techniques, everything. So we decided to stay here and to continue teaching.
Alicia: How would you describe teaching choir online and that transition?
Rocio: It was actually a very emotional time for our choir because we were planning to do our national competition in California but it was cancelled because of coronavirus. I still wanted to continue to do some choir rehearsals because, aside from my classes on Zoom, I needed for the kids to see me.
It wasn’t really about practicing for a concert because all of our concerts were cancelled. But I wanted to continue being there for my kids and maintain a connection with them.
So at the beginning of rehearsals I would ask them, “Tell me more about yourselves,” so they told me, “This is what I feel and what I have been doing.” I wanted them to express how they felt. I strongly believe that choir is a social activity. It is musical but also social, and kids want to be in choir because they want to interact with others and perform together. So after talking, we started to do warmups and then singing. The most challenging part was to listen to them together. I couldn’t hear them because their internet connections are kind of slow and there’s lag.
Alicia: And how did you manage the lag issue within Zoom?
Rocio: So what I did was that I played a recording, which I use for my students to practice. I conducted with the music so that the kids would still see me. The audio is not my kids singing, but I just use a recording to get them to be able to sing together.
What I did to listen to them individually was ask them to submit a video of themselves singing at home by themselves so I am able to know what they need to work on and things like that. I am trying to do a virtual choir performance, but I am not an expert in putting all the videos together.
I didn’t want the kids to be overwhelmed either by correcting them too much because I know their mind is on other things right now. They have their core subjects and other things to do. I just wanted them to express themselves. I even told them that if they wanted to wear their choir uniform they could, and some of them did it which made me surprised and happy.
Alicia: What would you say was the biggest challenge your students faced?
Rocio: The biggest challenge was that they were apart. They really, really miss the choir rehearsal and performing together. They miss coming into my choir room and the opportunity to sing together. It’s not the same in their living room or wherever they are. They also didn’t get to do our national competition, which the kids were really looking forward to. They were excited to go to Disneyland. It was very emotional for my kids.
Alicia: Do you think that, after the pandemic is over, you will incorporate Zoom classes in some way?
Rocio: I have to. I think it is necessary because we have to be prepared if something like this happens again. I think we have to stop relying too much on our big concerts and large ensemble programs. They are still important because we have to compete, but I think that we have to manage and plan a curriculum involving technology since it is a vital part of our teaching right now. I would like to do both face-to-face activities as well as online teaching in the future.
Alicia: How did your UF education impact you and why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree with UF?
Rocio: I had the idea to pursue the master’s degree for many years so my husband and I did some research on what was the best program for us. He actually started his master’s at UF first, so when he finished he told me to do it too. I wanted a program that was 100% online because there was no way I could do it as a teacher and with my own family life. UF offered us the best program that I have ever seen.
It’s a great program, and I totally recommend it for teachers, working families, or anybody who loves or has a passion for music and music education. It provided me with the tools that I needed to teach, especially at this time. With all of the technology-oriented courses I took as a part of my master’s, I learned so many things I didn’t know existed, and I was able to teach better throughout these past couple of months because of it. I wanted to learn more to use for my career, and I may do a Ph.D. in the future.
Alicia: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Rocio: Just that if there are other teachers or people who want to continue pursuing their music careers, the online master’s degree of music education at UF is one of the best program. It helps managing your time since it 100% online and I think that, especially now, we need to continue pursuing our careers and our development.
The UF Master of Music in Music Education Online program ranked #1 nationally in online master's in music education by BestColleges in 2020. Learn more about the online program.