CROCKETT, Texas - You may not see them on the campus of Crockett High School, but you can hear the students play because of their leader.
"Oh man we've got to keep the music alive,” said orchestra director Geno Gottschall, who is trying to keep the music playing during the pandemic. "Because without it, it seems so bleak."
For the past several weeks, Gottschall has conducted music classes with students in-person and online.
"I’m looking at kids in the classroom and they are all looking at their computers looking back at me, it’s still virtual even though they are right here,” said Gottschall.
In a way, it’s like teaching math, English composition, and juggling at the same time.
"To be real frank this is hard. This is hard, what we are doing right now, I think all teachers will agree with me trying to teach virtual is not the same. We do miss having kids in the classroom so have just a couple in here at a time raises our spirits,” said Gottschall.
Keeping students engaged is the challenge.
"We are kind of, not only are we the directors but we are cheerleaders, we have to come up with new and innovated ways to entertain our students, so they will keep that interest, that they want to come to class, they want to continue to make the music,” said Gottschall.
A YouTube video from March produced for the civic orchestra of Chicago provided Gottschall the inspiration he was looking for. Video clips of 62 social distancing performers were edited together for a virtual concert to celebrate the orchestra's 100th anniversary.
"Ironically the group in Chicago was founded during the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Now during this new pandemic- Geno Gottschall is trying to recreate the same kind of virtual performance with his students,” said Gottschall.
Instead of a music stand, Gottschall is now directing from a computer screen. "A lot of technical issues involved here,” said Gottschall.
They're building a digital orchestra, one audio clip at a time. For the students, the assignment is a life lesson.
"The technology we are having to use, right now, is the future, because regardless of COVID, this is where we are headed, right,” said Gottschall.
He knows that. Because he's part of the change. His band Geno Gottschall and the Rockholics have performed on FOX7, but like other bands are struggling to find places to perform during the pandemic. Going virtual is the new stage.
"It's not about the money anymore, this is our life, this is our outlet and it's got to come out some way, regardless of getting paid,” said Gottschall.
The immediate goal is to complete the virtual arrangement with his students before Christmas break. While the virtual stage he is creating may not be as large as the one from Chicago, it will strike a chord.
"I've given them a platform of being able to use artist expression to better enrich their lives,” said Gottschall.
The Crockett High Orchestra is preparing for another performance playing along with the Austin Symphony in January.