It has been a challenging year for many, and AHS chapters around the country are looking for impactful ways to energize their membership and rekindle a sense of community and kinship as they plan their 2021-2022 year of events.
We interviewed Elisa Torres, president of the Puerto Rico Chapter, and Hope Cowan, president of the Houston Chapter, to talk about how some chapters successfully brought life into online events that sustained their communities, even during lockdowns and uncertainty amid the pandemic.
Elisa Torres: Book club, a workshop about how to practice, game/trivia night—we did a regular edition, kids’ edition and Halloween/costume edition—, a pedagogy workshop, and a session on playing for weddings/events that covered how to prepare a contract, what repertoire you should have ready, etc. We also held a meet & greet with a Paraguayan harp ensemble.
Hope Cowan: Since March 2020, the Houston chapter has held online events, including a session with tips for successful virtual teaching and performing, a student recital, a virtual New Years social event, a recital focused on works by underrepresented composers, and our bi-annual Mildred Milligan Competition in a virtual format.
Attendance has been good at many of the events, but the Milligan Competition was especially high this year! We had 61 students submit videos to compete. We sent the videos to our judges and the students received detailed feedback. While the video format was certainly different from our usual live competition, I think more students may have chosen to compete because there weren’t any date conflicts. The video format also allowed the judges to watch the videos on their own time, allowing for more time to write detailed feedback.
ET: Right now, we’re doing our first virtual practice challenge. The challenge is to practice 30 minutes a day, every day, for the week. Participants can post their progress on Instagram, but it’s not required. At the end of the challenge, they have to turn in a report with the hours they practiced and we will send them a certificate. This is also helping us boost our Instagram account which was a little “sleepy”; we’ve seen at least one person post every day.
HC: Yes! In October we are hosting our 1st Annual Greater Houston Chapter Texas College Fair. We will have a panel of collegiate teachers available so that interested students and parents can hear about a variety of college programs and get advice on how to prepare for auditions. The virtual format makes a lot of sense because it allows us to feature faculty from across the state.
In September we’re hosting a masterclass and our Milligan Winners’ Recital, both events will be held live and shared via Zoom for people who want to audit or watch from home.
ET: The online survey that we sent out to chapter members helped us understand their interests and availability, what we are doing right, and what needs work. We even asked them what kinds of events they wanted to see/participate in. Hosting events that aren’t directly harp-related can help build a sense of community.
HC: While we are all eager to return to in-person events, our chapter will continue to host online events when the format makes sense. Houston is a huge metro area, so not having to drive potentially for hours has been a big upside to our virtual events. I hope we can transition to a mix of in-person and online events in the future to meet the needs of the harpists in our wonderful city.
Thank you both for sharing your thoughts on ways you are engaging with your chapter members!