Jonathan Ragonese, the director of jazz studies at West Chester University and the curator of this year’s Jazz Festival, was willing to speak to me about his usual work as the Director of Jazz studies, the festival itself and how it was changed to accommodate the online environment.
I had some general questions about his work and how COVID-19 has been affecting it, as well as questions about how West Chester University’s response to the crisis has been. He stated, much like many others that I have spoken to, that the university has done an incredible job with the pandemic and complimented the university for its willingness to compromise wherever possible.
Certain curriculums were given the opportunity to stay somewhat in-person due to the nature of the material that was being taught. It can be rather difficult to teach someone how to dance or sing if you can’t personally show them how to correct an error or where to make an improvement. “Making music is all about hearing and feeling vibrations,” Ragonese said. “We’ve done our best following the protocol, but it does make the act of making music very challenging in terms of the depths and the beauty of music, and what it has to offer us. We have to remember to remove the changes once it’s safe to do so.” The struggles of teaching and producing consistent music over the internet was also a struggle of other music ventures during COVID-19, like April Evans, the Director of Uptown Knauer Performing Arts Center. Both agree that teaching over Zoom or similar video streaming platforms has proven to be a rather difficult task.
Then we talked about the Jazz Festival.
The Jazz Festival this year, like most recent hosted events, has gone online in the constant wake of COVID-19. Due to the concerns of those participating as well as the organizers, it was decided that the event would be much safer this way. However, that doesn’t mean that this event has been brought down by any means. In his attempt to make the festival as good as it would be without COVID-19, Ragonese has made an effort to bring back as much as physically possible for the festival.
“The structure as you see on the website is pretty much verbatim what it always has been,” said Ragonese.
This would actually be his first year organizing and hosting the event, so he went to great lengths to bring everything back to where it used to be before the pandemic, such as hiring all the people that were unfortunately unable to teach and perform last year due to the start of the pandemic. This was to make up for the missed opportunity those artists were not able to participate in the previous year due to the untimeliness of COVID-19’s original lockdown of the event.
This Jazz Festival is an opportunity to give artists and teachers another chance at showing students the possibilities that exist in jazz in their future: whether it be to further it at West Chester,or for going somewhere else like many of the guest artists that will be present at the event.
One sacrifice, however, was the lack of personal interactions with both audience members and people from local highschool jazz ensembles. “There’s usually an enormous high school festival on Saturday — we would have 13 to 14 bands and all their parents come and that’s the one that that I’m most sad about, for my first year I don’t get to have that experience meeting a lot of the local band directors and a lot of the local students at West Chester.”
Ragonese has high hopes for the event. He anticipates that people will enjoy it as much as they would in a normal year and that the event will be a success no matter the hurdles that must be crossed to make it happen.
To learn more about the event and the guest artists, please look at the West Chester University website or click this link for more information: https://www.wcupa.edu/communications/newsroom/2021/03.02JazzFest.aspx
Edward Park is a third year student with a BsED writings track. EP909767@wcupa.edu