This was a very significant week for our studio! We realized our first online video recital on our own YouTube channel. I made it unlisted and true to that designation…. these videos do not turn up in any searches or even on my public YouTube page. I divided our 40 some videos into 6 segments, all under ten minutes in length so that students and families could watch in parts or all together for the normal length of a studio recital. Since this is a very historic time, as one of my students Henry put it…” we are making history” by staying at home…I titled each section of our recital using the remarkable characteristics that my students and families have exhibited during this stressful time: Titled “The Resilient Piano Students of Penny Lazarus”, the sections are WE ARE BRAVE, WE ARE CREATIVE, WE ARE OPTIMISTS, WE ARE CONFIDENT AND DO HARD THINGS, WE ARE PLAYFUL AND HUMOROUS, WE REMAIN POSITIVE AND UPBEAT, and WE ARE GRATEFUL. It was wonderful how the student’s pieces…fit well into each category. I am so proud of all of them, especially since we put this recital together with most of the teaching online.
I’m still upgrading my online studio setup! This week we added a large pliable arm to my video camera so that students can now see almost all of my piano keyboard when I switch to the piano view from my headshot view. Although I just realized what was happening with one of my very young students…Sophia…a first-grader who just started lessons in September. All of a sudden, she was having difficulty telling up from down, right from left and high vs. low on the piano. I couldn’t understand why suddenly she was confused. She had these concepts down pat since September. Then I realized it was a video camera view! It was reversed on her parent’s phone. We are constantly learning how to teach music during this epidemic.
This week was also marked by the sudden appearance of buzz cuts for a lot of boys! All of our hair is getting out of control since we can’t visit hair salons or barber-shops. At least the boys can use hair clippers!
Even though I was still working during the Spring vacation week, writing and participating in webinars on Women Composers as well as creating our studio video, I had enough of a break from being at the computer to feel rejuvenated. It was helpful that there were occasional lovely weather days that allowed me to get out to work in the garden. Feeling energetic again allowed me to take stock of my work station so that Josh and I made some significant improvements: by ordering extra-long cables, we were able to improve the output by hooking up my laptop since it had been moved over to the piano, to the large speakers under my desk on the opposite side of the room, so I could hear my students even more clearly. We improved input by also connecting one of my recording microphones so that it would pick up my speaking voice while teaching. We reworked the video camera so that it would give my students an alternate view of my hands on the piano as well as seeing my face. It wasn’t long before switching between my computer camera and the video camera became smooth and automatic. My students came back to lessons with new skills online as well. They were screen sharing with me! To show me their work and new finds of music on You Tube. I am definitely enjoying my updated workstation!
March 22 -28, 2020. Now that everyone has been set up with their online platforms and have figured out the best placement for their smartphones or iPad or laptop computers, we were able to start our lessons much quicker this week. We all had to come up with creative solutions to place our devices so that we could see both each other and our keyboards. My video camera is placed up high on the mantel of a fireplace in the studio, held in place with a gummy stick product similar to playdoh. Some students used removable painter’s tape to wrap their phones to a nearby lamp pole! One family came up with the solution for their laptop….by placing a small 5 step metal ladder by the piano…the next to the highest rung was just the perfect height!
We begin each lesson with students showing me where they wrote down their practice times in their piano notebook. Now each week, I can start to challenge them to raise their practice time to 150 minutes, which surprises everyone that this is only 30 minutes a day for 5 days. One of my students takes Sunday off from practicing because this is the day, they dedicate to family two-mile runs, bicycle trips and backyard planks to stay in shape since all team sports have been canceled and we are all mandated to staying either indoors or outside away from others. During lessons, we are now experimenting with split screens! I have learned, from one of my tech savvy students of course, how each of us can watch a YouTube video at the same time and still see each other. Professional music groups are filling our inboxes and spirits with samples of symphonies and chamber pieces played virtually from their own living rooms. One of the first of these to appear is the Colorado Symphony playing a virtual chamber version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy of the last movement of his last symphony, #9. Many of my students play this theme and have it memorized for their memory lists. For each of these students, we were able to watch this uplifting 5-minute video of musicians playing physically separated in their individual living rooms but musically together with sophisticated recording equipment. It was wonderful. Inspired by this experiment, I also set up a private YouTube Listening channel for the studio and downloaded a video for each student for them to watch…usually a video of a piece they are currently learning so that they could understand that their music is important because other pianists play them too.
So far, everyone is healthy and practicing social distancing. Some of my families are very fearful; they have parents with asthma or grandparents who have compromised health issues. We don’t know anyone yet who has had to be hospitalized although the numbers around us are growing. One family spent the week working to extricate an Aunt and Uncle and cousins from a sabbatical in Spain. They made it back, healthy but under quarantine now in North Carolina. Families are doing their best to celebrate birthdays at home without friends and family and school mates. It helps, all around, for me to see my families and I’ve been told that my students look forward to their weekly lessons. It is difficult to stay on time…I’m running at least a half late by the end of a teaching afternoon. It’s not just that teaching online is harder; but we all need to check in with each other. Parents share their worries; yet we are all so grateful our musical life continues as normal in an otherwise very abnormal time.