Changing the Tune: Music Student Seniors in the Age of COVID-19

April 23, 2021

Music education has suddenly become dangerous like never before. When COVID-19 halted life in March of 2020, music students adapted to an online, virtual format. An audience-based education was forced to become audience-less.

Senior music students faced an additional dilemma: their senior performances. The culmination of their undergraduate education was muddled with uncertainty. Nick Lipsette, trumpet performance major, and Maggie Stone, vocal performance major, are two seniors of the many that found themselves unsure of how their college career would conclude.

Nick Lipsette


Last spring, Lipsette found himself playing for his couches and computer in the living room of his house in Boone. Initially postponing his junior performance, the department eventually decided to hold it virtually. Now, one year later, Lipsette finds himself playing to a screen daily through $400 worth of sound equipment bought after this forced adjustment. 

“The reason I like music so much is that I can get together with a group and create a product,” Lipsette said. However, that’s the very aspect of music playing and music education that has been affected the most by COVID-19. Lipsette continues to attempt to play with others virtually. At 7 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday mornings he plays through their “morning routine” with a few professors and a grad student. (Kara Haselton)
Lipsette has played trumpet since he was seven years old. At 6 years old, he saw the musical quintet Dallas Brass, pointed at the trumpet player and told his grandpa “That’s what I want to do.” For Christmas that year, he got a trumpet and has been playing ever since. This spring, Lipsette prepares for his 45-minute senior performance, the last step before completing his undergraduate education. (Kara Haselton)
In music classes, such as his orchestra ensemble, students can only practice in a room for 30 minutes before having to let the room air out for 15 minutes. This forces the ensemble to transition to different rooms a few times during their class period. The music department has been using a program to keep track of all the rooms being used for practicing in the music building so as to allow rooms the proper amount of time to air out due to the virally spread nature of COVID-19. (Kara Haselton)
On Tuesday nights, the trumpet studio hosts a “master class,” now offered virtually, where students can show up with pieces they are working on and receive additional feedback from professors and other students. Lipsette and two other students often reserve a practice room in Hayes School of Music to attend the virtual master class in a small, socially distanced group. (Kara Haselton)
To help the freshman who have started during the isolating period of COVID-19, a group including a mix of different classes meets in the stadium parking deck to play together socially distanced. Lipsette sees this as a great opportunity to build connections with the younger classes and get them out of their dorm room. The trumpet studio, Lipsette says, is “proud of trying to build that community” between fellow students. (Kara Haselton)
In the spring semester of his freshman year, Lipsette toured Sweden and Norway with App State’s top jazz ensemble. In his bedroom, pins on a map remind Lipsette of all the places around the world that he has gotten the privilege of playing while he now sits in front of his laptop for virtual lessons. (Kara Haselton)
Due to the virtual format, Lipsette said that it’s been difficult to get the feedback and critique to grow and improve that music students need in order to grow and improve. “Because playing through a microphone, you might not be able to hear the little things that I’m trying to do, that he’s asking for,” Lipsette said. As he plans for his senior performance, he’s now allowed to practice the three pieces he chose with his accompanist Bair Shagdaron, but it forced to do most of his playing on his own. (Kara Haselton)
In December 2020, he submitted audition tapes and went through the application and virtual interview process for graduate school. Lipsette expressed appreciation for the connections he was able to make during his education through App State professor Jim Stokes, providing him with a solid foundation for his career. Lipsette accepted an assistantship position to work with the jazz faculty at University of South Florida where he will be continuing his studies in trumpet this coming fall. (Kara Haselton)

Maggie Stone


When Stone first tried to rehearse with a “singer’s mask,” she thought: “It’s like singing into a pillow.” Stone used to practice with her choir in the same room, their voices unmediated by technology. Now, her choir meets virtually to learn their pieces. Each singer then records their separate parts to be edited together. Stone said that the “singer’s masks” the school purchased just didn’t work. To accommodate, all vocal classes have been moved online. 

Before COVID-19 changed her education, Stone was in classes from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. every day. Stone meets in person only for her personal voice lesson and when practicing with her accompanist Clara Kempter, senior flute performance major, to prepare for Stone’s senior recital. (Kara Haselton)
Since age two Stone’s had a passion for singing. Now a senior vocal performance major, Stone grew up listening to the jazz and beach music that her father’s band plays. Coming into the Hayes School of Music, Stone was intimidated; but she quickly learned that “everyone is super nice (and) really goofy.” (Kara Haselton)
“If I didn’t have lessons in person,” Stone said. “I would’ve taken a year off.” However, she also said that this altered year has still been beneficial in several ways. “COVID has helped me learn to stay positive and allowed me to sit back and take a break and pause,” Stone said. Not only that, but “Zoom has been helpful because grad school interviews have been over Zoom, which is great to not have to travel.” Some teachers have even been giving free lessons, which Stone is glad to have access to. (Kara Haselton )
For her senior recital, she will be performing 21 pieces, all different styles ranging from opera to American folk songs. In addition to Rachmaninoff, Stone intentionally chose pieces by Black composers and female composers as “they are extremely underrepresented, even now.” She will be singing in Italian, Spanish, Russian, French and German in addition to her native English. (Kara Haselton)
“The hardest thing is not being with people,” Stone said in regards to all her classes being virtual for the past year. “My major is very social. It’s weird singing over the computer.” Stone attends classes either from her bedroom or the music library in Broyhill Hall. (Kara Haselton)
“When I first moved up in August, I was in a funk because I couldn’t do anything,” Stone said. Her main ways of coping during this time has been through self-care and spending time with her boyfriend. When on-campus gyms opened by appointment only, Stone started going regularly. At home, Stone enjoys cooking and watching TV with her boyfriend. (Kara Haselton)
When her voice professor, Joseph Amaya, is not on campus, he allows Stone to use his office to practice and work on her pieces. During this challenging year, Stone said she has tried to stay busy, always getting out and practicing. Having an additional space to do so has been helpful for Stone. (Kara Haselton)
“Performing without an audience is almost worse because you don’t have people clapping and hyping you up,” Stone said. She’ll be performing her senior recital twice, once virtually through the school, and a separate off-campus recital in person. Stone’s career goal is to go into opera, hoping to go to grad school fall 2022 to continue her studies at Yale. (Kara Haselton)
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