During the pandemic, music has played a key part in many people’s lives as a source of inspiration, joy and stress relief. As a way to keep music a part of their students’ lives, music schools in the area remained open, teaching lessons in innovative ways.
West Main Music Academy
Online lessons instantly became available at West Main Music Academy, 470 W. Main St. in Cheshire. In mid-March, slightly before non-essential businesses were required to shut down, Katie Giampietro, director, along with her staff, decided to shut the school down and develop a plan for virtual lessons.
“So we basically jumped into action and developed a virtual lesson program for all instruments. Every instrument that we offer was available for a virtual lesson,” Giampietro said. “We offer a variety of platforms so we did a lot of research on what technological platforms were best and would lend themselves to the most successful music lesson.
“We basically developed a virtual lesson program kind of overnight, rolled it out just after we shut things down and the majority of our students who were coming for in-person private lessons or group lessons jumped on to the virtual program and we’ve had amazing feedback,” she said.
Effective July 1, West Main Music Academy opened again for in-person lessons. New plans and procedures were put in place, such as social distancing, masks, limited capacity and lesson rooms cleaned between students.
“Once we put those policies in place and rolled that out to our student base, people seemed very comfortable coming in,” Giampietro said. “Our staff seems very comfortable and so we’ve had, I say, a majority of our students who were virtual did come back for in-person lessons, but we continued to offer virtual lessons.”
Giampietro plans to offer virtual lessons permanently so students who cannot come in or do not feel comfortable with in-person can continue to learn.
“It’s really a choice at this point and I am really glad to be able to offer that choice to people because I feel like everybody has a different comfort level,” Giampietro said.
Since reopening, JC Music, 529 W. Main St. in Meriden, has had a majority of its students back in the store for lessons, with a few transitioning to online. For those who are taking in-person lessons, the store put COVID-19 related procedures in place including sanitization and social distancing.
“We're fortunate at our facility in that our lessons studios are larger than average for a typical music store,” said Shawn Matyasovszky, director of music lessons. “This enabled us to implement social distancing fairly easily. We have hand sanitizer available in each studio, and sanitize the piano keyboards between lessons. Additionally, our faculty and staff wear masks, though for some instrumental lessons, this isn't possible. Woodwind and brass lessons would be an example of this. For these lessons, we prioritize the use of our largest studio to ensure safe social distancing.”
The majority of students at JC Music take a 30-minute private lesson. All lessons take place in the Education Center.
Amid the pandemic, however, JC Music is offering virtual lessons, which was challenging to design at first. However, Matyasovsky said the teachers are supportive and willing to teach virtually when needed.
“Our teachers are very happy to be back working with their students,” Matyasovsky said. “They've been very helpful in implementing our safety procedures, and have been supportive of the options to teach online where needed.”
Keys and Strings
Once the pandemic hit, staff at Keys and Strings, 321 N. Colony Road in Wallingford, prepared to teach lessons on any virtual platform including Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and Google. Because people are using technology more, some of Keys and Strings’ client base went down.
“Kids were so burnt from being online during the actual shutdown that doing anything else on the computer was just too much and actually some adults too,” said Sandie Apuzzo, director and owner. “They couldn’t handle work and then something that was supposed to be their relaxation and their joy was like work now. So they took breaks too.”
At the beginning of virtual study, the biggest challenge was students forgetting to call into their lesson time.
“In the beginning, a lot of kids were home alone or parents were working and they might say, ‘call into your lesson,’ but they didn’t always know what to do,” Apuzzo said. “Now, things are much better, but the first few weeks in March were challenging. It was a lot of communication… But now, we’ve got it pretty well under control.”
Even though only 12 students are being taught in-person right now, Apuzzo said some students are succeeding in virtual study.
“Some of them weren’t flourishing in face-to-face real time lessons,” Apuzzo said. “They became more focused, there were less distractions of hearing other lessons going on. All of our rooms have either a window or my room has a glass wall so you could see when people were walking by so I found for those students, they’ve really blown me away with how they’ve improved in their studies.”
Pat Russo Music
Pat Russo, co-owner of Pat Russo Music, 424 N. Colony Road in Wallingford, has also noticed that some students have been flourishing in virtual study.
“When we went online, I had kids that were making their way like usual, excel,” Russo said. “Like just completely taking off. I feel as though because they know I am not in the room with them to help them out, there is a little bit more of they have to figure it out on a deeper level because they know I’m not there to move their finger, I’m not there to physically reach over and position their hand in the right spot.”
Pat Russo Music opened to offer in-person classes on June 20. Russo said that as of right now, 60 percent of the students are taking in-person lessons. With the mixture of in-person and online classes, Russo said it can be a long day of teaching and cleaning the rooms in between in-person lessons.
“So I’ll have a kid that’ll come in and then there’s a break and I’ll clean up,” Russo said. “Then I’ll go online and I’ll do that … I need time just in case (technical difficulties) happen, I need time to fix that and the next kid will come in and then I will need time to clean … That’ s the hardest part. Trying to teach and give everybody time and then you’re also trying to eat lunch and take a break, have water, go to the bank, all that kind of stuff.”
Even with COVID-19 related challenges, Russo said the community got a lot closer than it already was.
“There’s a really tight community,” Russo said. “We were already like one giant family. The kids come in, the adults come in, they love it, this is the best part of their week, that kind of thing. But now, it’s at a way deeper level because they’re coming in and like, ‘I need some normalcy.’”