Music program wraps up remote year with ending concert and senior night

May 21, 2021 — by Esther Luan

SHS String Orchestra performs one of their pieces, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, during their March 26 showcase.


Following a year in remote learning filled with challenges and learning experiences for both students and staff, the music program will host its final virtual concert of the year on May 28 at 7 p.m.

Similar to previous concerts this year, the event will premiere live on YouTube and remain available after the event to revisit. Performances from all of the program’s ensembles, including each orchestra, both bands and jazz band, will be featured, as well as potential performances from the winter percussion and winter guard. “We’re really going to try to make it a full music department event,” band director Jason Shiuan said. 

The process of creating these concert videos involves having each ensemble member record an individual track, then assembling the audio and video portions together in post-production. The ensembles have been producing these videos all year in place of traditional in-person concerts, most notably for the Winter Virtual Showcase in December and the Homestead Virtual Festival in February.

Shiuan has struggled throughout distance learning to monitor the quality of the video submissions students complete as class assignments. Shiuan compares producing ensemble concert videos to cooking: “If you don’t start with good ingredients, it doesn’t matter how good of a cook you are — you can only get so far.” 

Complications such as students using low-quality mics or filming at the wrong angle have been common. Communicating detailed recording instructions has also proved difficult through an online classroom.

“It’s not like normal where I can get in front of [students] and be like, give me your work,” Shiuan said. “The videos seem really easy to put together, but it’s an immense amount of work and time.” 

Despite these difficulties, the music program’s year in remote learning had its upsides. Notably, Shiuan was impressed by the way music students stepped up to lead their ensembles in breakout rooms and sectional practices. 

“We teachers can’t teach everybody on Zoom effectively, so watching students be really interactive [in breakout rooms], trying to make the best of the situation, I think was by far the most inspiring thing I saw this year,” Shiuan said. “I’m proud that Saratoga students have been extremely patient and flexible.”

While several other Bay Area schools saw up to a 30-40 percent drop in music program enrollment throughout the year and other programs at SHS also fell in enrollment, the school’s music program did not see such setbacks and did not lose any students during the 2020-21 school year, according to Shiuan. The lack of an expected drop was a sign of students’ love for the music program despite the year’s challenges, Shiuan said.

Sophomore Shannon Ma, who serves as one of the concertmasters for the school’s most advanced ensemble, Saratoga Strings, believes small ensemble work ignited leadership within students because they “had to take initiative and produce a polished performance together based on our own musical knowledge and ideas.” Ma added that this pushed students to discover the real fun in making music and become more passionate.

Similarly, senior Danielle Moon, who has been in the orchestra for all four years of high school, believes the department did a good job maintaining the quality of the music program through virtual learning with the implementation of a variety of online tools and learning formats. However, the biggest loss of having a virtual year for Moon was missing everyday interactions with peers and mentors.

“Whether it be during the time we’re all cramped behind the stage walls or packing up our instruments and music for the day, the seemingly insignificant comments and conversations are often the most memorable moments,” Moon said.