Mary La Blanc

Mary La Blanc is a percussion performance major at the University of Southern California. She joined the PCM team as Education Technology Intern in August 2020 and shares about her experience both as a PCM staff member and as a musician.

Young Woman with long blonde hair and bangs holding percussion mallets in a courtyard

When I packed a small suitcase along with my mallet bag and snare drum to drive home for my “extended Spring Break” last March, I certainly wasn’t expecting to spend a year inside my home. Yes, this week marks the year anniversary of quarantine, and as a percussion performance major at The University of Southern California, it has certainly been a year of uncertainty.

With campus shut down, all classes and lessons have been conducted virtually through programs like Zoom. At the beginning of the pandemic, faculty and students alike were thrown rapidly into this world of digital education –– one which wasn’t exactly designed for remote music-making. I certainly felt overwhelmed by the challenges that can arise from trying to make art through a computer, especially as an orchestral player whose career is based on in-person interaction with other musicians and audiences. Without the ability to perform in person or even access practice facilities, I soon realized that to get the most out of my time at home, I would need to learn as much about music technology as I possibly could.

Luckily, recorded auditions had been becoming increasingly prevalent over the past few years, so I had gained confidence in being able to produce high-quality videos and audio recordings. I had taught myself how to use Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and editing software like Final Cut Pro. I began editing my own videos for personal music projects, and I was discovering that I actually really enjoyed the technology side of music. I felt that I had a greater connection to the music I was making and that as a video editor, I could add another level of artistic expression to my work.

By April 2020, I was informed that my orchestral summer festival I was scheduled to attend was canceled, along with nearly all in-person competitions. Suddenly, I had three empty months to find new opportunities, and I began searching for internships, something that (as a performance major) wasn’t typically part of our regular career paths. After a bit of digging, I came across the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture Arts Internship Program website. When I found a listing for an Education Technology internship at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put my music technology skills to work and to get a glimpse into the administrative side of a music education organization. After an application and Zoom interview, I received an invitation to join PCM in the fall as a remote intern.

During my time at PCM, I have been able to broaden my skills in a variety of areas, from assisting with the technology component of online music history courses to editing together the final product for larger choral projects.

I was introduced to new technologies at the forefront of innovation during this pandemic, like JackTrip, a server/device which allows for live, remote synchronous performance. It was so inspiring as both a performer and a music technology enthusiast to be able to perform live with another PCM staff member for the first time in nearly a year.

My interactions with students at the conservatory have been my favorite moments during my time here. The lack of in-person interaction can be frustrating for students of all ages, especially in ensemble performance classes, but all of the students I worked with were eager to learn new technologies to connect with their peers. There was nothing more gratifying than being able to show an ensemble their completed piece, knowing that they had worked so hard to record themselves.

I suppose it is a bit strange to think that I have never met anyone at PCM in person, but it has certainly never felt that way. If anything, this experience has just further proved the power and importance of technology in society and its true ability to form real connections with others. It has been so inspiring to be able to see PCM’s impact on their students and community. Music brings such joy, even virtually, and I feel so lucky to be able to help others continue to experience it. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive and kind staff at PCM, and I will forever cherish their advice and insight.