Since the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the 2020 DCI Tour back in March, the Bluecoats have gone all-in on virtual learning.

With success keeping the organization’s members active and engaged online throughout the summer of 2020, this September the corps took things a step further to launch a brand-new virtual educational platform called Bluecoats School of the Arts.

Utilizing a three-pronged approach to learning that includes live seminar-type webcast events, on-demand video “coursework” that can be completed at a student’s own pace, and one-on-one private lessons with corps instructors, the Bluecoats are setting out to build a repository of knowledge that will eventually extend beyond the drum corps and marching music genre.

One of the first extensions of the School of the Arts is the recently-announced Bluecoats Learning Access. The new program is an opportunity for the Canton, Ohio-based organization to reconnect with its local community, specifically working with the Canton City School District and ENRICHment of Stark County—a Canton arts nonprofit that works with under-resourced students—to offer access to Bluecoats School of the Arts programming for free.

As a byproduct of uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the launch of both the School of the Arts and Learning Access comes at a time when the Bluecoats have been able to take a step back from the hustle and grind of a typical drum corps season to reshuffle and refocus organizational priorities.

“The cancellation of the 2020 season was an opportunity in a way for us to really look at a plethora of things,” Bluecoats CEO Mike Scott said. “It’s been an opportunity for us to examine what our programming was, to examine what the Bluecoats organization and mission is when the drum corps is not in the field, and to grapple with our share of sort of the due diligence that's required to make sure that Bluecoats is an accessible place that provides programming to everyone and that we’re advancing an anti-racist culture.”

As part of this initial discovery process, Scott says that he and his team looked at a number of different ways to serve their intended audiences, even beyond the marching music students already familiar with the drum corps activity and the Bluecoats organization.

“We asked ourselves how do we go another step further and ensure that we’re reaching our local community, that we're providing our programming for free so that it's really accessible, and that we're reaching target audiences and students who wouldn't ordinarily interact with us,” Scott said. “Learning Access is an investment of the organization to ensure that programming is provided at no cost to the Canton City Schools, at no cost to ENRICHment, and at no cost to those students.”

Working with local school administrators and band directors, the Bluecoats have already begun to distribute access codes to Canton City students to the on-demand learning and live event portals within the School of the Arts.

One of the first major events that these students and others will have access to is two huge educational seminars that are being organized for November 21-22 (Symposium I) and December 5-6 (Symposium II). The two events will bring together the talented team of Bluecoats instructors and designers in addition to a diverse array of professional artists to present on a wide range of topics.

“They're really ambitious events,” said Scott. “They’re both two-day learning events, and we're going to be programming hours and hours of virtual learning. It’s going to take dozens and dozens of instructors, dozens of administrators, and we have some incredible guests coming in.”

One of the keynote lecturers for Symposium II will be Grammy award-winning composer, performer, and YouTube star Jacob Collier, with world-renowned trumpeter Jens Lindemann on the schedule for Symposium I in November. Scott noted that additional high-profile presenters will be added to the schedule in the coming weeks.

Bluecoats School of the Arts launched just over a month ago and while Scott says that it’s still in its early stages, he’s excited about the growth potential of the platform and the opportunities that it is providing not just to the students, but also to the organization’s instructors who like performers have in many respects been sidelined from teaching during the pandemic.

“It’s been depressing not having a drum corps, but it certainly has been uplifting to be able to work on a project like this where we are continuing to reach and interact with students,” Scott said. “At least as a small concession to everything that’s happened in the last year, that feels really good.”

Learn more about the Bluecoats School of the Arts

Learn more about Bluecoats Learning Access