On March 12 of this year, like most in UL, Carl Corcoran left his office at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance firm in the belief that he would return within a few weeks and that the interruption would be nothing more than an interlude.
Seven months on, he writes about the new norm, traversing zoom and how the show must go on.
“During my 20-year sojourn in America, one of the regular summer delights with the ‘kids’ was to spend a day at ‘Zoom Flume’ – a water park located in upstate New York, home to a collection of rapid flowing water slides. East Durham is a small rural town located in Orange County, New York; a county affectionately nicknamed Ireland’s 33rd due to its popularity with Irish emigrants and Irish Americans alike - almost equidistant from the urban centres of Boston and New York.
Little did I realise back in the mid-eighties that 30 years later I’d be traversing another type of Zoom – this time an Online platform which up until mid-March of this year meant nothing more to me than a camera lens action and/or the exhilarating experience of skimming down the water slide on a hot August afternoon in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
“March 12 2020 is a day that will live in infamy. The day the University of Limerick, along with every 3rd level institution shut its doors. Students and faculty now at home, left us all facing the second half of Semester 2 in a state of flux as to how and where we were going to deliver the remaining syllabus. The MA in Songwriting (now in its fourth year) is a one-year immersion in the craft and curation of finding one’s true songwriting voice. And on this infamous day, I as Course Director along with faculty colleagues were faced with the burning questions of what, when and how we would continue with our journey.
“How long would we be out was an unanswerable question. The fact that behind my office door, books, journals, CDs and an unfinished ham sandwich were abandoned, indicated that our intentions and hopes were that we would be back within a short spell – days, maybe a couple of weeks. Yep, we’ll nip this virus in the bud and return to complete that which we had started back in September...the privilege and joy of encouraging and mentoring songwriters to hone their craft and find their true creative voices.
“Alas, that was not to be. We sprang into action. Our tech team led by the Academy’s Dr. Alan Dormer proved themselves to be invaluable and certainly worthy of sainthood in hindsight. The UL IT Department, along with AHSS teams devised new systems throughout the university. These were rapidly upgraded, updated and upped in their capacities; we were upturned, upset and upskilled in our capabilities. That third week of March saw us presenting songwriting workshops by international songwriter Sarah McQuaid from her home in Cornwall, while my students joined from their homes in Castleconnell, Tipperary and Toronto Canada. The end of semester performances were submitted via video tapes recorded in similar locations. We had adjusted – and had succeeded.
“Now, almost seven months later Zoom and other online platforms became a daily event. Microsoft Teams were a common rendezvous location. Words like synchronous and asynchronous weren’t even in my microsoft word dictionary. Now we Zoom our workshops, our tutorials, our one to one ‘song checks’. We sing songs ‘live’ over the internet to classmates and colleagues located in various locations in Ireland and further afield.
And if we have sound quality issues, (or as we now refer to it as ‘computer latency’) there’s always the phone...yep, sing the song into your phone using a high-quality sound enhancing application provided by Dolby On, email it to me.... ‘bing’ goes my alert, and there it is Sara’s beautiful song, in all its high quality glory as if she was in the room - the result of a two-hour workshop with John Spillane – she in Galway, he in Cork, me in Dublin – and all of us in awe and wonder.
“There’s no doubt about it - we are well ensconced in the 21st century. Online delivery – or in our case now, blended delivery is the norm. Four weeks of face to face, or as we now say ‘f2f’ on- campus lab or practical work are peppered throughout our 12-week Semester. Yes, we long for a complete return to the hallowed halls of our Irish World Academy by the Living Bridge - our sanctuary or hub of creativity, where the spirit of Academy founder Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin occupies every room, corridor, and corner.
Our Academy, where conversations in Blas Café can be just as inspiring as the workshops, lectures and seminars that take place in the studios, theatres and practice rooms.
Our Academy, where the synergy of collaboration between Masters of Songwriting and the BA in Voice and BA in Contemporary Dance is as important as the 5000-word essay on ‘Post-Colonial influences in modern contemporary Irish songwriting’.
“We will return – but in the meantime we continue to inspire, nurture and encourage our songwriters in the craft of expressing their hearts and souls and thoughts; commentaries and observations of their lives, loves and losses. How many of these songs will be about or inspired by, our lockdown experiences; our enforced opportunities to meditate and muse over ‘the meaning of life’.
“We will return to lunchtime concerts in the Tower Theatre and the sunset concert series showcasing intimate live performances by the visiting songwriters of note who conduct workshops and tutorials.
“We will return to the office on the second floor to scour those books and journals; and listen to those CD and Vinyls that, for now gather dust. We will return to that unfinished ham sandwich!
Fear not - that ‘scientific experiment’ was rapidly removed by a diligent buildings department staff who lovingly took care and continue to take care of our precious Academy in our absence. - Professor Carl Corcoran