Community and Creativity – Even in Quarantine

The bottom half of a professors face seen on a video conference with one of his students below.

When the realities of COVID-19 set in and the college moved to remote learning, one of my first questions was: what now? My teaching and overall academic approach is rooted in active pedagogy, experiential learning, and collaboration, which all seemed more difficult and less relevant. And with words like “essential” becoming a part of the discourse about difficult decisions, I questioned my role and the “essentialness” of a co-curricular program such as the Mike Curb Institute for Music, which I direct. 

The path forward emerged, as it so often does, from taking a step back, and from staying true to the core ideas of building community by learning with and from students. 

The first step was to reach out and ask some simple questions: Where are you? How are you? Would you like to continue to be a part of the Curb Institute? The answers to the last question moved me to action. Not only did students want to continue their jobs with Curb, but they saw the program as something that connected them to Rhodes and to each other—something …essential.  

One of the things we have lost is the collective spaces of creativity. Recognizing this loss before I did, students came to me with the idea of activating our community to create an online creative quarantine movement. As we worked through the process of what it would be and how it would work, it became clear that this was not just another Curb project—this was the Curb Institute at this moment. 

The Curb Institute’s Instagram page was rebranded as the @curbcreativequarantine and it has served as our scaffolding ever since. It is great to see people posting and sharing, and it has offered a way for existing Curb projects to continue in new ways. In fact, our isolation has forced us to be more intentional about working together, which is something I plan on carrying forward.

This experience also informed my classroom teaching. Much to my surprise, I am actually teaching online guitar lessons, and I am learning new things about collaborating with others remotely in the Audio Engineering class I co-teach with Kevin Houston. Originally, the class was built around visiting historic studios in Memphis and working together to make a record. Much of the mechanics have had to change, but Kevin and I realized that that the core elements were still intact. We decided that making a record was still the main objective, even if we have to figure out how to do it together. We did add one new course objective, though, which stated that we would meet every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 a.m. That would have been an absurd learning outcome a few months ago, but not so much anymore. 

While the path forward is not as clear as it has always been, it still feels pointed in the right direction, and it is reassuring to be on it with others…even on Zoom.

A bearded professor in an open collared white shirt and jacket.

Dr. John Bass serves as Director of the Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes College. Currently, his research focuses on the Memphis jazz tradition and high-impact pedagogical practices. He also maintains a career as a professional musician in Memphis and the region.