Casper music instructors use digital tools to keep some 'normalcy' in age of COVID-19 - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Casper music instructors use digital tools to keep some ‘normalcy’ in age of COVID-19

Vibes student Whitney Bradfield takes a piano lesson with her instructor online recently in Casper. (Courtesy Vibes)

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.

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“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.

Vibes student Riley Graham takes an orchestra class online recently in her Casper home. (Courtesy)

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 Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:

What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.

If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.

Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.

For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email:

  • Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.