When he accepted the position as the School of Music’s new director, John Allemeier transitioned into his role during a pandemic.
The official start date for the job was July 1, but Allemeier was already a part of the conversations and planning earlier, knowing this semester would come with challenges.
“When I came to interview, first of all, I loved the program,” Allemeier said. “It’s a really great, comprehensive school of music. It has a really strong curriculum, strong faculty, so I was really interested in that.”
Wren Stevens, interim associate dean for the College of Visual and Performing Arts, was part of the hiring process for Allemeier’s position and said he stuck out from other candidates in the interview because he was calm, wasn’t ruffled by questions and seemed like a stable rock.
“I will say that he is like that professionally as well,” Stevens said. “Since I’ve been working with him, he’s always calm, he’s always cool, he’s always friendly, and his attitude is can-do.”
Allemeier previously spent 14 years at the University of North Carolina Charlotte as the associate chair of the music program.
“I’d always known the reputation of JMU and the School of Music,” Allemeier said. “I loved the job description, and the school and faculty were amazing — still are amazing.”
Because of COVID-19, Allemeier wasn’t able to see the school as it normally runs when he joined the staff. He said that the planning of this fall was intense because the majority of what students do in music, like singing, can be considered conducive for viral spread.
“I spent the summer learning what’s safe and what isn’t and how we can put those protocols in place in order for us to be safe in our classrooms, rehearsal spaces and even practice rooms,” Allemeier said.
Currently, Allemeier’s working through the problems faced by the School of Music on virtual platforms. Because of the coronavirus, he’s unable to meet face to face with his faculty, and the meetings he attends are mostly through platforms like Zoom and Webex.
“It has been a really strange experience getting to meet and learn what my faculty want to do and what issues I need to address through a video meeting,” Allemeier said.
Before JMU went completely online, Allemeier made sure to be present at events like the 1787 Weeks of Welcome. He said he wanted to get in front of students and introduce himself while he could.
“I’m sure he would’ve had some sort of meet and greet with him if it hadn’t been for all the [COVID-19] stuff because it would be nice to actually know who our new director is,” Sophia Shedd, a senior music performance major, said.
Allemeier started listening tours within the school that gave his faculty members the chance to express their concerns and hopes for the program. They were also able to determine what was in progress and what wasn’t.
“The thing I’ve been most impressed with is that he started doing these fireside chats,” Stevens said. “Every week there for a while he would videotape himself about the things going on.”
During these fireside chats, Allemeier addressed things going on within the school, how he wanted to move forward and what his thoughts were.
“He really wanted to make certain that people got a chance to know him,” Stevens said. “Even before he really started, he had reached out to some faculty members in the School of Music, and they were very receptive to hosting virtual meet and greets.”
The School of Music was among the largest of university departments to request hybrid and continued in-person classes at JMU, Allemeier said. He said some of the classes offered would be difficult to do over Zoom, such as ensembles.
“We’ve had to totally turn what the School of Music normally is upside down,” Allemeire said. “What I’m seeing as a new director is that there is an opportunity here for us to come back and rebuild something that was better than it was before.”
Allemeier said that as the program hopefully transitions back to normal, the School of Music can examine what positive changes happened and how they can retain those new opportunities.
“With all the changes JMU had to make for [COVID-19], I think [Allemeier] did the best he could with coming into this position during this crazy time,” Shedd said. “I’d be interested to see what changes he wants to make regardless of [COVID-19], but I don’t think he’s made any huge decisions yet.”
One idea that Allemeier said he wants to continue to utilize after the pandemic lifts is virtual masterclasses with professional musicians.
Allemeier said, given the challenges the school is facing, that one silver lining is that he’s asked the faculty to do many tasks that might be an extreme ask in different circumstances, and they’ve eagerly cooperated.
“It’s a tribute to the community that I think is here, that everybody’s pushing forward, everybody wants the program to succeed,” Allemeier said. “They’re not only invested in their own interest but the interest of the entire program.”
Contact Jean Luther at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.