CASPER, Wyo. – People living in a world nearly shut down by COVID-19 desire some normalcy.
With budding musicians, that normalcy means continuing their music lessons and practice. What’s no longer normal is the method.
Social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus has forced instructors and students to innovate, often very quickly.
“We had to make a huge decision and change our entire business platform in less than a day,” said Amy Munsell, owner and director of Vibes Fine & Performing Arts.
After the state mandated social distancing practices, Vibes’ teaching programs went entirely online. That includes all lessons, classes and music therapy, along with preschool programs like Kindermusic.
“Music education is very important for keeping brains active and allowing individuals to express themselves during a unique and sometimes stressful situation,” said Munsell by email.
“Even though we’re in isolation, we feel that this experience has brought us even closer,” she said.
Jennifer DePaolo is the chair of the Casper College music department who also runs a private violin studio.
Within a matter of days she moved her studio into her living room and set up a laptop. After some online research, she settled on the digital platform Zoom.
“Zoom is working pretty well, we’re experimenting,” said DePaolo. “It seems to work better when they’re at a computer and not on a phone.”
Video conferencing works well for voice, but the nuances of music are lost in the digital translation.
“I can see what they’re doing and correct their posture, I can hear well enough to correct notes and rhythm,” she said, “but in terms of fine details of tone production and sound, it’s completely lost.”
DePaolo is encouraging parents to invest in decent quality external USB microphones to help capture better sound.
Then there’s the digital delay, which makes playing simultaneously impossible.
“A lot of teachers do this, we’ll play duets with our students for a portion of the lesson because there are things to learn,” she said. “Now you can’t play together.”
The personal interaction and sensation of playing together is what DaPaolo misses most since the transition.
“It’s something we take for granted,” she said. “Get out your instruments and literally exchange all that energy.”
DaPaolo says she can’t see teaching a complete novice to play will work online, since there needs to be hands-on help and demonstration.
Some students who study piano, harp or drums don’t actually own instruments, instead using those supplied by schools or instructors. DaPaolo says the college has adjusted its policy and allowed some instruments to be taken home by students.
Still, there are interesting upsides to the transition.
“One of the major upsides I’ve seen with my students is they have to take more responsibility for everything,” said DaPaolo. “They have to mark in their own music, and they have to take their own notes. It’s good for them.”
She thinks the sudden need for online music teaching and playing will speed the development of software that can make live, simultaneous online playing possible.
At Vibes, Munsell says online practice sessions tend to be more lighthearted.
“Vibes students and families have enjoyed sharing their home instruments, pets, siblings and practice areas with our instructors,” she said.
“Community connection is everything with us,” she said.
With digital technology, that connection doesn’t stop because of social distancing.
The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.