EWU Music Teacher Balances Class with National Guard Service

Like all Eastern Washington University faculty members, Stephan Friel, a lecturer in saxophone studies in the EWU Music Department, faces unique challenges this quarter. It is no surprise that transitioning to online learning is not ideal for music programs due to their hands-on nature and group participation requirements.

Rising to a challenge, however, is nothing new for Friel. He also serves in the Washington National Guard, where he is currently filling two important roles—assisting in the local emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic and working as a member of the Army National Guard Band.

“We are constantly providing assistance to food banks across the state, helping operate remote testing sites and conducting a variety of logistical support operations,” Friel says. “Concurrently, I am making educational video modules for instrumental music education for 6-12 music in Washington state.”

Friel has certainly been through his share of emergency response situations. In his 34 years with the Guard, he has served in multiple states, including Oklahoma and Texas, and he deployed to Iraq in 2010.

But as a member of the Army National Guard Band, the COVID-19 pandemic represents one of his more unique challenges. His unit is currently working on a project to engage future generations of Eastern music students during the K-12 school closures.

“You can imagine how difficult band is with no band,” Friel says. “So, we will offer online masterclasses, resource materials and links to recordings.”

He says they will work with the Washington Music Educators Association to disseminate all of the video and materials. The rollout is expected to happen in May.

For his Eastern students, Friel says he, like his colleagues, is putting in time and a half trying to make sure that his students receive the highest quality instruction. He says the Music Department has turned hard copy materials into online resources and transferred to web-based video sources for online lessons, classes and rehearsals.

“I also put up links of professional recordings for them to play along to. We do Zoom discussions and I upload videos of me demonstrating how to perform the music and practice specific, difficult passages,” Friel says. “The silver lining is that we will all be better at this technology and innovators will learn to make it more accessible at a higher level.”

Friel demonstrates the spirit of being Eagle Strong—not only supporting EWU during this difficult time, but also supporting the surrounding communities we all call home.

“In the end, whether as a National Guardsman or an educator, it is about serving one’s community,” he says. “Everyone I know has really gone above and beyond in their service to their communities. It is motivating, to say the least.”

Please continue to share your Eagle Strong stories with us! You can submit a story at inside@ewu.edu and visit ewu.edu/strong to learn more about the university’s efforts.

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