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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Comfort in music: How two UC Davis programs are spreading music despite the virus

UC Davis Department of Music and KDVS radio station share their work to continue music

This story is the second installation of The California Aggie’s two-part digital art series. Part one can be found here.

Making a drum out of two wooden spoons and a pan might not seem like the most obvious reaction to COVID-19. But in Italy, singing from balconies and playing instruments made from kitchenware with neighbors provides a way to stay connected during the global pandemic. 

These flash mobs against coronavirus are just one of the many ways people around the world are still creating and spreading music. Here in Davis, the UC Davis Music Department and the campus radio station KDVS are working to continue their art in any way they can, from uploading archived work to developing new content remotely.

Music department: Performance art and its digital dilemma

The UC Davis Department of Music is holding music courses online, including performance-based classes. According to Phil Daley, the Music Department’s events and publicity manager, many classes that would normally put on performances, such as concert band or orchestra, have been converted into classes focusing on studying music history, technique and performances by other groups. 

“In music, there’s so much more historical context that we can study in the interim, so we can better inform our performances,” Daley said.

Although performances will not be held according to the original schedule for Spring Quarter 2020, Daley is hoping the department will be able to have a small festival in the summer to showcase the many music ensembles at UC Davis. In the meantime, Daley is working to provide musical content and thoughtful musical exploration by uploading past concerts to the UC Davis Music YouTube channel. 

“The archives are wonderful to look at,” Daley said. “It’s not the kind of music that you would necessarily put on in the background and listen to while you’re writing a term paper, but it’s the kind of music where you have to sit down and think about what you’re listening to and hearing and seeing.”

According to Daley, although the theater department is planning to create a digital version of their spring play with 17 different ensembles, it is harder for the Music Department to move their performances and rehearsals online. Synchronization, a crucial aspect of creating music with an ensemble, is made difficult due to technological constraints with programs, such as Zoom.

“People who are familiar with the internet hear this term ‘lag time’ a lot,” Daley said. “Maybe it’s just a few milliseconds and to people […] having a conversation, it’s not a big deal because there’s a call and response. But when you have to actually synchronize, I think it’s important that people think about how difficult that might actually be. You could probably pull off four 16th notes in just a couple milliseconds.”

Despite the challenges that come with remote-learning, Daley is hopeful, as music and art often flourish in trying times, functioning as a way to connect with others.

“My personal impression is that art is a source of refuge for a lot of people,” Daley said. “It does bring people together in interesting ways. It provides a piece of escapism that isn’t Netflix or Disney Plus.”

KDVS: Content in the face of coronavirus

Despite prohibited access to on-campus resources, the UC Davis student-run radio station KDVS is planning on continuing operations this quarter by uploading archived works and creating shows remotely, according to Noel Fernandez, a third-year economics major and general manager of KDVS.

“We are going to be re-running archives,” Fernandez said. “There’s hours and hours of shows, probably years’ worth of shows we could go through. A lot of it is kind of unearthing content, so I don’t see any problem with that. I think people would be excited to have shows that they’re very proud of [replayed].”

In addition to continuing KDVS as both a news and music source, Fernandez said the station is planning to hold events and concerts on Zoom.

“We’re trying to create ways for KDVS not only to exist as a radio station but more as an idea or institution,” Fernandez said. “Stuff that you would usually do in Davis with your friends that are KDVS-relevant or KDVS-thrown, you can still do that, but maybe virtually for the time being.”

Although this solution to social distancing might not seem obvious in another context, for Fernandez, the issues resulting from coronavirus have caused KDVS to be more creative.

“The idea of a virtual concert or attending a virtual concert is kind of absurd before coronavirus, but now I think it’s a matter of really breaking tastes and really expanding into new things, because we’re driven by physical separation and also boredom,” Fernandez said.

The radio station serves the greater community beyond the students working at the station, Fernandez said. Media including radio stations are listed as essential businesses during the pandemic, according to the California State Government. For Fernandez, KDVS acts as both a source of essential information, but also, and perhaps more importantly, a way for people to distract themselves and find comfort.

“I think a lot of these communication things are very important right now, whether they’re about news or whether they’re an escape from it,” Fernandez said. “I think KDVS is more of the latter, where people want to desensitize themselves from something for a while, so they go to a radio station where there’s someone producing something they love.”

Furthermore, the reliability and consistency of the radio station is something Fernandez believes will help members of the UC Davis community.

“Our audience is very wide,” Fernandez said. “It could be the most tech-savvy guy who’s listening [and] downloading all of our archives or just someone that has their alarm clock radio set to 90.3. We want to provide some sort of comfort, we’re always there. There’s always something streaming on KDVS, whether old or new, but they kind of imbue all of the same energy and positivity in light of everything.”

Written by: Sophie Dewees — features@theaggie.org

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