Walters Elementary is a small Title 1 school in Southwest Oklahoma just north of the Texas border. It’s the kind of school where cowboy boots are more common than tennis shoes and all you have to do to get to the high school is walk across the street.
But don’t let all of that fool you. For the last six years, Walter Elementary fifth graders have gotten to enjoy a teaching concert from one of Oklahoma’s most preeminent pianists, Hyunsoon Whang, the McMahon Endowed Chair in Music at Cameron University.
Every year since 2014, Denise Tulloh’s fifth grade general music class travels to Cameron University to experience the concert and lecture from The Juilliard School-educated pianist.
“She reached out to me at that time to invite us as she was already doing a concert for a Lawton school. She had a friend, Eric Everett, that worked at Cameron and had a daughter in my class. She has been kind and generous to continue that tradition,” Tulloh said.
This year’s concert and lecture had been planned for May 5, but unfortunately COVID-19 made the traditional version of this concert impossible. Wanting to ensure that the children still got to have this unique experience, Tulloh and Whang began discussing alternatives.
“Children are our future. I believe in the importance of arts. Music helps them become well-rounded, cultured and compassionate human beings. And I enjoy playing for them and interacting with them,” Whang said.
With that in mind, Whang and Tulloh agreed that the show must go on. They decided to utilize the go-to video conferencing software of the pandemic, Zoom.
“Once Denise and I decided we would do it online, I consulted her for the length of the show. When in person, we usually set aside one hour, but she suggested a shorter session considering the various internet speeds and their online attention span,” Whang said.
The pair settled on 20 minutes of music by four major composers, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. The actual concert ended up lasting about 40 minutes, Whang said, and some of the pieces the students recognized such as the well-known “Turkish” Rondo by Mozart.
In 36 years of teaching, this spring was Tulloh’s first experience with online learning. But knowing Dr. Whang for the last few years provided her with some reassurance that the concert would go well—she was not disappointed.
“The students loved it. Dr. Whang has an amazing rapport with them, and she is a master teacher,” Tulloh said. “I loaded it on the google classroom so they could watch it again if they’d like. Also, the students that couldn’t be there, have an opportunity to view it.”
While it was unlike any of the concerts that came before it, Whang hopes that despite its virtual nature, the concert inspired the students to think more deeply about classical music.
“I hope they feel proud that they know about these composers and attended a piano concert, albeit virtual,” Whang said. “And hopefully they will be more interested in classical music in the future. I think they enjoyed it, along with meeting my dog Callie who happened to be well behaved during our mini concert.”