DeArmans Perform National Anthems to Support International Students During COVID-19 Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed lives in unexpected ways, but staying physically apart has brought about new, creative ways to virtually take care of one another.

As Southeast Missouri State University transitioned its classes completely online during the spring semester, Dr. Brooke DeArman, Assistant Director of International Education and Services, International Student Services, felt it was more important than ever to connect with students as they finished their spring semester from their homes across the nation and around the world.

She understood how feelings of separation and solitude could affect their academic and personal lives. DeArman, who has a Bachelor of Music in trumpet performance and a Master of Music, is a freelance trumpet performer and teaches trumpet lessons to local area students. When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and businesses, it also halted her performances and lessons.

“Performing and teaching lessons are my main motivations for practicing and keeping a high level of playing ability. During the first week of teleworking, I was in a real funk and didn’t even want to walk into our music room and see my trumpet,” she said. “I could feel that I had lost my motivation and knew I had to do something to make myself keep playing my trumpets.”

Watching a news story about the summer Olympics that replayed footage of a medal ceremony with the German national anthem playing in the background inspired DeArman to combine her love for playing trumpet with supporting Southeast students during this unprecedented time.

Brooke and her husband, Ken, performed Mexico’s national anthem on Cinco de Mayo in honor of Southeast’s faculty, staff and students and Southeast President Carlos Vargas’ Mexican heritage.

“Music is the universal language,” she said, and since she knew very little about the national anthems of the world, she decided to motivate herself and connect with Southeast’s international students and let them see a side of her they never get to see by performing national anthems of countries around the globe.

With the help of her husband, Ken, who graduated last May from Southeast with a Bachelor of Music in trombone performance, the DeArmans recorded full quartet and quintet arrangements using MelodyLab, a music software application, to play and record the national anthems of the home countries of Southeast’s international students, who during the spring semester, represented 60 countries. In total, they played and recorded 63 national anthems over 62 days.

Some highlights of the quarantine performances included performing Mexico’s national anthem on Cinco de Mayo in honor of Southeast’s faculty, staff and students and Southeast President Carlos Vargas’ Mexican heritage. Additionally, the DeArmans performed the national anthem of Zambia to recognize one of Brooke’s best friends who has been living in this African country for over a decade after serving in the Peace Corps there.

The DeArmans recorded one anthem in an evening at their home, and Brooke posted it the next day to the International Education and Services at Southeast Facebook page, her personal Facebook profile and her “Brooke at Southeast” Facebook account for international students and alumni. Each video also included information about and a link to the background of each anthem.

In all, she estimates the entire project took 80 hours of practicing, arranging and performing.

In total, the DeArmans played and recorded 63 national anthems over 62 days.

“The music for most anthems is public domain, and we used a combination of brass, woodwind, string, piano and vocal scores that were available,” she said. “We did have to get creative with some of the arrangements, but we certainly had a lot of fun doing this, and we tried to perform these as close to the official recordings as we could and paid special attention to style and tempo.”

The project has helped her expand her own musical abilities and connect with her students.

“When you have to record a performance you really try to give a flawless performance, so there’s an added level of focus that comes into play since you only have one chance, especially since you don’t want to mess up a national anthem that so many people know by heart,” she said “Since there’s only two of us performing, we both had to improve our transposition abilities and read parts that were written for other instruments. I feel more connected to the international students now more than ever. I learned so much about all the different countries just by reading about the history behind their national anthems. It was neat to see how much in common all of the countries truly have and to hear how similar music and harmony can be across the continents, but to also hear the regional flare in each anthem.”

The response she has received from students about her videos and performances has been positive and rewarding.

“This has been a tough time for many students as they have not been able to travel home due to the pandemic and several students have mentioned that this brought a little piece of home to them here in Cape Girardeau. Anytime they would feel homesick, they would just find their anthem on my profile and listen to it,” she said. “So many have mentioned that this has meant so much to them, and they’ve all been so gracious.”

Additionally, many students have shared the videos to their own Facebook profiles, prompting some of the videos to go viral as people in their home countries also began sharing them.

When Brooke posted the Timor Leste national anthem on their independence day, a Southeast student shared it and within two days it had more than 20,000 views.

When she posted the Sri Lankan National Anthem on Sinhala, the Sri Lankan New Year, many students and other Sri Lankans shared it, with this performance getting nearly 15,000 views in a day. When she posted the Timor Leste national anthem on their independence day, a Southeast student shared it and within two days it had more than 20,000 views.

DeArman has received comments on the videos as well as private messages from all over the world.

“Thousands of people I’ve never met and probably never will meet have thanked Ken and me for doing this. The one comment that really stands out is ‘Thank you and your husband so much for doing this. I never expected to hear Americans playing my national anthem, and something about seeing you play this is very special to me. Much respect and love to you two,’” DeArman said.

One of the highlights has been seeing students, alumni and people from all over the world interact and connect online, she added. Being able to support cultural awareness and provide a platform for people to share their culture and support one another has been a rewarding experience.

“Most of these people don’t have daily contact with others from a different country, and they have really enjoyed hearing the anthems and learning about them as well,” she said. “Many parents said they incorporated the videos into their children’ daily homeschooling routine. That’s something I never thought about when we first started doing this, and I think it is really cool that Ken and I played a part in helping these kids broaden their cultural awareness at a young age.”

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