Music School during COVID: My First-Year Experience

My name is Janae Gaddy, and I am a first-year Double Bass Performance major studying with Professor James VanDemark. As a student who has not only navigated the “unknowns” of the college transition process, but also the unique experience of attending a music school during COVID-19, I am often asked about my school experience thus far. Despite the challenges that the pandemic has presented, I reflect on my first year with immense gratitude for all of the opportunities that I have received and excitement for the years to come.

August 19th, 2020: Move-In!

This is me in front of the school during Move-In week

My Eastman experience began on August 19th of last year, which was the day that I traveled to Rochester and moved into the Student Living Center. I remember being excited to start my journey here, but also nervous about living away from home for the first time. That morning, my family and I drove here from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Since I was traveling from a contiguous state, I did not have to complete the 14-day quarantine like many of my classmates, but I did receive a mandatory COVID test that day at the athletic center. After my test, I had a one hour time slot to move into the Student Living Center and was allowed to bring one guest in at a time to assist with move-in (per safety guidelines.) Once the hour was over, my parents left, and I spent the rest of the day unpacking. I felt pretty anxious being in an unfamiliar place by myself, but I turned on some of my favorite music, and soon felt right at home.


Two masked friends give a thumbs up

My friend Carly and I after a trip to the Rochester Public Market!

One of my favorite things about Eastman is the community. Ever since my audition day, I have felt welcomed, supported and cared for by the students here. Though COVID certainly made it more difficult to hang out with friends, I continue to be amazed by the school and student body’s creativity in discovering ways to stay connected while remaining physically distanced. Some of my fondest memories include an outdoor garbage plate night (a Rochester staple!) with the bass studio, virtual game nights/meetings with extra-curricular groups and weekly food takeout adventures with my friend from Texas!


Two double bassists with music stands in a rehearsal.

My studio-mate and I in an orchestra rehearsal for Stravinsky’s “Suite No. 2”

Another source of joy this school year has been the many performance opportunities that I have received. Before the start of my first semester, I was excited to participate in in-person ensembles, but I was unsure of how socially-distanced chamber orchestras would compare to the large ensembles that I had been accustomed to before COVID. I am pleased to say that my experience has been both challenging and rewarding. Because of smaller ensembles and social distancing, I have developed a stronger sense of musical awareness, and I have been exposed to repertoire that I might not have encountered otherwise. In addition to performances with the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra, I have also enjoyed playing a premiere work in a Composers’ Concert, accompanying the Repertory Singers with a small instrumental ensemble and getting together with friends (including my wonderful accompanist!) to read through chamber music.


A student in a t-shirt and face mask practices piano in a practice room

Me preparing in a practice room for Piano Class!

I would describe Eastman’s curriculum as rigorous, yet intentional and gratifying. I am thankful for the many classes that have made me a more well rounded musician as well as those that have expanded my horizons beyond music. Because of the Music Theory and Aural Skills classes, I feel much more prepared to analyze and discuss music in an academic setting. My ensembles, piano and studio classes have been helping me overcome performance anxiety and teach me how to collaborate and make beautiful music with others. In addition to my core classes, I have enjoyed taking an Eastman Art and Politics course and a Spanish class from the University of Rochester. It has been incredible to be able to take classes from the university as an Eastman student!


Colorful take-out food in a cardboard container.

This is a poke bowl from one of my favorite restaurants, Tai Chi Bubble Tea.

For me, one of the most exciting things about living in Rochester is the many restaurants in close proximity to the school. On some weekdays, I enjoy taking a shuttle to River Campus to study and eat from one of their dining halls. The Eastman dining plan works for all of the university’s dining locations, including our Hillside market and the Starbucks at Wilson Commons. On weekends, I love to try new restaurants with friends. I have been amazed by the many different cuisines represented in the city, including Jamaican, Mexican and Thai food (just to name a few!) 


Looking up a grey indoor rock-climbing wall with blue, black, and yellow holds on it. A person is climbing half-way up.

This photo was taken during my first rock climbing experience!

Another advantage to living in Rochester is the wealth of activities available to students. This school year, I had the opportunity to try rock climbing for the first time at Central Roc gym and kayaked along the Genesee River. I also took many trips to the Rochester Public Market, and visited the Seneca Park Zoo as well as Ontario Beach Park. Another awesome experience was  touring the Memorial Art Gallery and the George Eastman house! Next semester, I am looking forward to apple picking and hiking.

Though this has been a trying season for many of us, Eastman has given me the tools and support system to make the most of my time here. Through all the struggles that COVID has presented, I feel incredibly blessed to do what I love the most with gifted and encouraging peers by my side!

Four formally-dressed musicians wearing face-masks pose together on a marble staircase.

My bass studio mates and I after our last orchestra concert of the school year!