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Zooming to success

Photo: Adam’s story - how he’s coping with online university

As he chats away in the studio where he's working on a new track, Adam's outlook on life seems to be a world away from where he was this time last year.

“In the first week of lockdown I broke up with my girlfriend, who I’d been with for years and years,” remembers Adam. “Then we found out that my uncle had cancer.”

At the time, Adam was finishing his music BTEC. When his college suddenly closed, the students were initially told that the work they had saved on college computers couldn’t be sent home.

“It felt like everything was falling apart,” says Adam, who is moderately deaf and wears hearing aids.

“All my support was gone. I didn’t know if we’d finish the BTEC or if all that work had been for nothing. I lost my motivation. It was hard to keep working when I didn’t know what was around the corner. I was at a real low point.”

It was a friend from church who helped Adam to refocus. “Church is a big part of my life,” says Adam. “It was actually a drummer from church who inspired me to become a musician. He gave me lessons for free.

“I talked to a friend from church about how I was feeling at the beginning of lockdown. After that, we spoke on the phone every week to check in.”

Before lockdown, Adam had applied to several universities to study Popular Music, a course which requires good grades, as well as a successful audition. After gaining new motivation, Adam decided to reject the other universities and aim for Leeds Conservatoire.

“It was a very risky move!” he laughs. “I just thought, ‘I’m confident I can get there.’”

Luckily, the risk paid off. After a frantic few days trying to access his final teacher-awarded grades after a problem with the system on results day, Adam was thrilled to be offered an audition at Leeds. “Long story short, I got in!”

Adam’s family live near Leeds, so he was able to continue living at home when he began his course in September. Before starting, he got to know other students online.

“I think lockdown made it easier to connect with other students because we were all used to communicating online,” he says. “Someone set up a group chat of new students going to Leeds Conservatoire, so I jumped on that. We had a few Zoom calls and even a Zoom party!

“One of the other students on my course is a DJ, so he connected his DJ stuff up to his computer, added some flashing lights in the background and then we all had a party over Zoom. It was great, it was really fun! It made settling into uni a lot easier because I’d already met so many people beforehand. I think I would have struggled without that.”

In addition to Zoom parties, most of Adam’s course is also online. “We go into uni one day a week to do an ensemble class,” says Adam. “That’s really cool because I get to jam with the other students. We get to know one another a bit more, too. But the rest of the course is online. For me, it’s all about finding a routine.”

Fortunately, Adam has found the Conservatoire supportive. Adam’s mum is also deaf and works in special educational needs, so he knew he could ask for the help he needs. During his audition, Adam explained that he struggles to hear speech, and was directed to a disability adviser.

“The disability adviser asked what support I’d need and explained all the ways they could help,” says Adam. “They took my name and said they’d email if I got in. And as soon as I got in, they sent me an email saying everything was arranged!”

The Conservatoire provided Adam with a radio aid and a note taker who takes notes for him during Zoom calls, so that he can focus on what’s being said. Adam’s classmates use the hand emoji function on Zoom to show when they want to speak, so he knows who to focus on. His tutors send him their PowerPoint presentations in advance, and also record their Zoom conferences.

“It’s great,” says Adam. “If I’ve missed something, I can go back and watch it again. Having a note taker is really motivating too, because knowing someone else has taken the time to write the notes motivates me to do the work after the class. That kind of support has made all the difference.”

Although Adam’s enjoying his course, he’s aware that there are limits to what they can do online. “Our masterclasses are all online,” he explains. “It feels like you may as well be watching it on YouTube. Masterclasses are taught by famous musicians, but you can’t ask for advice or get to know them like you would in person.

“When all this is over, the main thing I’m looking forward to is getting to meet up with my friends, create live music, go to open mic nights and just play my heart out.”

A keen drummer, guitarist, violinist and singer, Adam’s even sponsored by the Osmonds through their charity, Hearing Fund UK. “Every year, I perform at this posh gala they have. I get to meet loads of different celebrities. It’s really cool!”

Despite the restrictions, Adam thinks the pandemic actually encouraged him to go to university.

“Lockdown made me realise how much I needed to focus on myself,” he says. “It was a struggle but I overcame it and good things came out of it. I’ve learned you have to love what you’re doing. You have to follow your passion.”