How a mid-coast music school kept pace when the pandemic forced its community to split up

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When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close in-person classes last spring, music schools were not spared by the mandate.

While music lessons are not a fundamental part of every child’s education, Midcoast Music Academy Executive Director Jen Feldman knew that for her students a constant connection to music was vital.

Over the past year, the academy has had to completely rethink the way it connects students and instructors, including a hub to virtual teaching, modified and distanced in-person classes, and hybrid recitals. The school’s physical location has even moved to a building with better ventilation.

The transition to pandemic-compliant music education has encountered its fair share of technological challenges and has forced some people out of their comfort zone. But for the students who saw so many other aspects of their lives turned upside down as a result of the pandemic, they were grateful that their connection to music was something they didn’t have to give up.

“I wanted to be able to continue my music lessons in any way I could with the circumstances, because it’s a very important part of my life,” said Aili Charland, 16, a piano, guitar and vocals student at Midcoast Music. Academy. “I love being a part of this community so I was happy that this connection didn’t just dissipate when COVID hit.”

the Midcoast Academy of Music was founded in Rockland in 2012 as a one-class music school with an instructor. The school has since grown to serve approximately 180 students, ages five to 75, with seven instructors teaching everything from piano to guitar, vocals to percussion and wind instruments to computer-generated music.

In March of last year, as the tidal wave of COVID-19 closures approached near Maine, Feldman said she saw “the writing on the wall” and knew they had to develop a plan to continue training when they are eventually forced to close their doors.

Over a weekend in mid-March, Feldman and school founder Tom Ulichny went to great lengths to make sure the school has enough devices like webcams to take lessons. fully online. They made a plan for how online education would work and spent the following Monday with the school’s faculty giving virtual studio-to-studio lessons. That Tuesday, the academy was doing virtually all of its instruction.

“It was really important for us to keep the momentum going. It was all so uncertain and scary and in the air. We already knew how important this weekly class touchpoint was to most of our students, ”said Feldman. “We wanted to make sure we provided that stability. ”

If a student did not have the instrument they needed for their home lesson such as a real keyboard – the school would begin to lend their own stock of instruments. Although the school has not loaned instruments in the past, Feldman said this loan program will likely continue even after the pandemic is over.

Overall, most students were already equipped with a device – like a tablet or a computer to virtually connect with their instructors. However, Feldman said the internet’s varying degrees of strength have proven to be difficult. In a few cases, classes have been temporarily suspended until an in-person class is possible, or until a student can access a more stable Internet connection.

Other issues with the online instructions included fixable things, like finding out that the Zoom video meeting service has a setting that mutes certain rhythmic sounds, like drums, unless a user decides to change it.

But online education offered benefits that face-to-face lessons lacked, including flexible hours and the ability to reduce travel. The video lessons also allowed instructors to see the setup in which a student is practicing their instrument so they can come up with suggestions for possible adjustments, said Tom Luther, professor at Midcoast Music Academy.

Additionally, especially for piano instruction, Luther said that the multiple camera angles he can share on the screen allow a student to see all components or the appropriate shape while playing. Luther also records the lessons, so that students have the opportunity to review them.

“I just thought there was more opportunity with the online component than anything else,” Luther said.

Despite the online instruction removing the direct in-person connection, Scout Bookham, a student at Midcoast Music Academy, said her virtual classes still gave her a much needed sense of connection with her instructors and fellow students when it was lacking in many. other areas of his life during the pandemic.

“During the pandemic it was a very difficult time, especially without being around other people,” Bookham said. “I felt that my guitar and vocal lessons were not only a chance for me to learn music, but also to have good discussions. It wasn’t just about playing music, but also discussing the effect of music on so many things. It was really, really nice.

As restrictions on face-to-face instruction eased over the summer and fall, a few instructors began giving masked and social distance classes. Feldman said the priority for these limited in-person classes went to students who had problems with internet connectivity or who found the online format difficult.

In November, Midcoast Music Academy moved from its longtime home in downtown Rockland to a freestanding building on Commercial Street in Rockport that lends itself to safer education in today’s health environment.

“We have been thinking about moving for a while, but once COVID hit and there was no ventilation in [the Rockland] building, that made that decision to finally relocate that much easier, ”Feldman said.

The new school location is a former medical practice, with examination rooms that have been turned into classrooms. Each room has a window that opens, unlike the previous building, and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system has recently been installed.

Typically, the music academy holds two recitals per year to recognize the hard work of its students and staff. Last year was no different other than the format.

For the 2020 Summer Recital, individual students could either be filmed around Rockland or send in a recorded video that would be compiled into a virtual recital. This winter, comfortable students were filmed on stage at the Strand Theater in Rockland – where the school usually gives its recitals. The summer and winter recitals were broadcast on YouTube.

“We see our recitals as a celebration of the work they’ve been doing all semester anyway and we didn’t want to take it away,” Feldman said.

The academy hopes to hold its summer recital in June as an outdoor performance.

As more instructors get vaccinated, Feldman predicts that more in-person classes will be possible. But given the success of virtual education over the past year, Feldman said he plans to continue offering this type of course.

“Now we are in this place where we are in our new space, we are looking forward to summer and trying to figure out what it is going to be like. What we would like to see is maintain what we offer and offer a little more, ”said Feldman. “But we’re still going to be offering the part online, there are benefits we never considered.”

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