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 Molly O’Roark, president of the Georgia Chapter, and Laura Logan Brandenburg, vice president of the Dallas 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..
American Harp Society: Which online events did you notice generated the most engagement?
Molly O’Roark: We held several events virtually in the 2020-2021 year. Our first chapter Fall meeting was not well attended via Zoom, attracting about 8 people. In December, we held a "Harpy Hour" open mic concert and had about 8 performers sign up and much more participation and engagement. I sent out a Google form for participants to sign up. We welcomed any/all levels and had a mix of professionals, adult students, and young students. It was a casual performing environment and everyone chose a variety of performance genres.
In the Spring, we held our Chapter Auditions and Evaluations virtually. Since it didn't require a physical guest teacher, we went further afield and had Dr. Rosanna Moore join us from Oregon. We followed our traditional model of a two-day process about 5 weeks apart. I digitized the theory tests in a Google form, so after students played their audition for Dr. Moore in a breakout room, I sent them the link in the main room and had them stay on in case they had any questions. I sent the answers directly to their private teachers at the end of the first day. We had a total of 14 participants, which was a really strong number! The second date, we had the students perform a virtual recital which started as a quick spring meeting and then went into the program. This event was also well attended.
AHS Concert Artist Caroline Wilkins was initially scheduled to come to Atlanta for a masterclass and performance in late March of 2020 (not possible due to pandemic lockdowns that stopped travel.) Instead, we ended up having her send a recorded recital and then doing a live Q & A. This was less well attended. We had about 7-8 people on the Zoom. I think it would have been far more effective if she had performed live rather than the screen share of the recital.
Laura Logan Brandenburg: It's not easy to maintain an active chapter when you can't get together in person. Pivoting to online events is a lot of work — almost more work than planning a live event!
Our chapter was able to purchase a Zoom Pro account for our own use, which made scheduling online meetings and events for larger groups much easier. We hosted the AHS Concert Artist through a streamed recital video, followed by a live Meet & Greet. We offered a Tech Talk round table event, where members shared their own experiences with technology, recording, Zoom, and recommendations for audio/visual equipment.
With a lot of research, planning, tech rehearsals, and sound checks with the competitors, we were able to successfully hold our local student scholarship competition online in a live Zoom format, utilizing judges from all over the country — quite a unique experience. Another challenging event was a planned workshop weekend with Julia Kay Jamieson. Shout out to the AHS Grants program for making this event possible! While we were all sad not to host our guest artist in person, Julia led us in a series of one hour workshop sessions that even included some playing along (on mute, of course). Julia shared a stunning video concert of her own arrangements and compositions, providing live commentary in between pieces. Everyone came away truly inspired.
The final two events of the season were our annual Spring Student Recital and presentation of our 2019 Chapter Ambassadors community engagement projects. The CA projects were shared as videos after which I interviewed the CAs live over Zoom about their experiences. Following much discussion regarding hosting an outdoor recital (an iffy venture given Texas weather), we elected to hold a live Zoom recital with the students playing from home. We had a smaller level of student participation than we normally would, and the sound was not completely perfect, but we agreed that the live recital experience felt more normal, and brought us all together at the end of a quite unusual and extraordinary year.
AHS: Do you have any upcoming online events planned?
MO: We have our annual fall event on the calendar for late October, with a “women composers” theme. We’ll invite local members to perform. We had several students participate in the Young Composers Project in June, as well as several professionals we will be asking. The details are still being firmed up for this.
We're planning another Harpy Hour on December 18th, likely on Zoom, but possibly in person. This event is a holiday gathering and a chance to perform for each other. We haven't planned for Spring yet, but we are likely going to participate in the A&E program at the very least!
LLB: Now, at the beginning of our 2021-2022 season, the chapter is cautiously planning live events with Covid protocols in place, and we have Plan B in place, to pivot to an online format if needed. None of us on the board are tech pros by any means, but by pulling together we have accomplished a lot, and that is really what community is all about.
AHS: Any final thoughts?
MO: It is definitely a challenge to generate creative online events. I taught our school harp program virtually for an entire school year and Zoom burnout is so real.
I think community building is extremely important at this time because the pandemic has been a global one; not one person has been unaffected by it in some way. I think it is really nice to try and foster that sense of "we're in it together" even when we can't physically gather.
LLB: One fun thing we did to promote chapter engagement in our online meetings was to award door prizes! We held a virtual drawing for CDs from our guest harpists during one online recital in the Fall. In the Spring we held a Harp Trivia Tournament at the end of a student event and awarded 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes of gift certificates to a harp catalog company.
Thank you both for sharing your thoughts on ways you are engaging with your chapter members!