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Making it work: moving music lessons to online

Local music schools were able to quickly make the switch to online learning to ensure that their students were able to continue music lessons

“The community has been totally supportive,” says Carrie Suriano, co-owner of Case’s Music, says of the pandemic and its impact on local businesses. “As a local business owner in the downtown, we are one that I think will survive this, but I know for sure there are some businesses who won’t.”

On a personal level, Suriano sees the need to consciously support local businesses for the betterment of the whole community.  

“What my family has been doing is trying to buy groceries at places like RJs or ordering from City Meat Market, trying to support local. We always go to Stones to get supplies. I call them and 30 minutes it is dropped off at my door. We are trying so hard to help everyone else.”

Suriano considers her business lucky as it has been able to balance some lost business with some new business. Although music lessons historically have been a big part of Case’s business and they have inevitably lost of some students taking lessons during a time of social distancing, the situation has been somewhat balanced with people buying instruments to learn during their time at home.

“We have lost some students, especially the younger ones. We’ve had to refund so much money which is hard on the business,” says Suriano. “But we’ve sold more guitars in the month of April than we do at the beginning of December for Christmas shopping. And it’s not just guitars, but harmonicas, bongos and other things. We had somebody order a bunch of tin whistles. People are scratching things off their bucket list that they never really had the time to do before.”

The store has greatly limited hours, a limited the number of people allowed into the store, and provides curbside service as needed.

Despite this change, the music school has been able to convert some of their students to online lessons.

“We are using a program called Teacher Zone, which is one the most popular platforms in North America that music schools use.”

She notes that the students can connect to their portal through Zoom, Skype, Facetime or other platforms. According to Suriano, parents are making those lessons part of their children’s weekly routine.

“They are practicing more because now it is part of their everyday schooling at home. Parents like it because now they are seeing direct results for their money.”

Suriano notes that the store will be able to do in-store or online lessons post pandemic.

In the meantime, she is looking forward to a time when she can see her customers face-to-face.

“It’s lonely here while I’m working, but we are making it work and we hope other people are too.”

For Long & McQuade, the switch to online learning was also a way to keep their student base in lessons.

“We switched to online lessons at the end of March, beginning of April,” says Lindsay Pugh, Long & McQuade store manager/lesson coordinator.

“It just seemed like the logical next step.”

Pugh says at least half of the teachers decided to offer lessons via the online route.

“They’ve maintained a steady number of students. We also have a number of our students who are now taking lessons with the out of town teachers in our network.”

For Alisa Borland, one of Long & McQuade’s teachers, the benefit of being able to provide the online lessons for students is consistency.

“Being able to keep some normalcy to life and our usual routines, to be able to still enjoy something that takes our minds away from daily stress and to be able to do it in the comfort of our own home is actually quite nice,” she says.

Borland notes that online learning offers an added benefit of having fewer distractions if the lesson is set up right.

“It can help students who experience anxiety do well in their lesson when they are in their safe space and comfort level. It can allow students who have health issues have an easier time continuing with their lessons if they aren’t feeling up for leaving their home that day,” she says.

“It can be a lot more convenient for students also because it eliminates travel time, which is especially helpful and important for students who live outside of the city. It’s not bound to any certain hours and can be done with more lesson time flexibility.”

Pugh notes they have even gained some future students during this period.

“There are some people who have purchased instruments and want to start up [lessons] when things resume,” he says.

The transition to online lessons for Frank Deresti, music instructor at Algoma University and at the Algoma Conservatory of Music, has been “smooth.”

“I have taught online before, mostly when I have had students who have moved away and they wanted to keep having lessons with me … So I have done it for shorter periods of time,” he says. “At the Conservatory, we are all teaching online and the vast majority of my students have carried on with their weekly lessons”

Like the other local schools, Deresti is adapting to the needs of the students.

“We are using whatever platform works best for the student. So if they have Facetime, Skype, or Zoom. I basically left it up to the students to make it as easy as possible for them. It is easy enough for me to switch.”

Deresti feels that the reaction to the online learning has been really positive.

“The parents I have spoken to are glad that it has been able to keep it going. I think there is a feeling that it is nice that the kids have something to check in with every week and something to work towards. And it still has all of the same benefits music lessons have to begin with, but especially now in this time with much less to do.”

Deresti notes that even the younger students have adapted to the concept of online learning.

“Once you get past the first lesson or two, the kids get used to seeing the teacher on the screen as opposed to in person. We’re a few weeks into it now and everybody has a system.”

The biggest challenges for the Conservatory are group classes and ensembles.

“Susan Traficante teaches my daughter Eva in one of her group classes called Music Readiness. What she is doing is producing videos and sending them to everybody, with assignments,” says Deresti. “From a parent perspective, that’s been really cool to be able to keep that going. It gives my kids something to work on as well. I build it into their daily activity.”

For Deresti, the biggest advantage to the move online is the knowledge that it can be done.

“In the past, up until now, if there is a snow day, then there is no lesson,” he says. “But now we have experience with this so we can switch it over easily. I’ll stay home, you stay home and we will do our lesson anyway.”

Deresti’s preference is still face-to-face lessons.

“There are little things like pointing to something on the page that only takes a second, whereas online you have to describe it and it takes more time."

He also notes that in other ways, it can be more efficient because the lesson starts and the student is already ready, are in their chair and have the guitar in their hand.

“Online can certainly work, but it’s the second choice for me personally.  It is another tool that we can utilize. It is lot easier to connect and communicate with the student in the room. It will be nice to get back to a spot where we can all be together again.”



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