Wallingford School of Music hosts porch concert and accommodates virtual lessons

WALLINGFORD – Local music teachers gave a free concert downtown on Saturday, drawing dozens of spectators to sit socially remotely on lawn chairs, on the grass, even above parked cars.

Rock House School of Music, 393 Center St., opened in Wallingford last June, expanding from its longtime location in West Haven.

The concert was the last in a series of Saturday performances by school instructors. The performances started indoors and were broadcast live on Facebook.

When the weather turned warm, they moved outside to the large front porch of the converted office building, entertaining passers-by and motorists with rock and pop songs to heavy riffs from the 1960s through the 1980s.

“It’s good with people passing by,” said owner John McCarthy. “At least they hear some music. It brightens up their day a bit.

Heather Lea, voice teacher, is the one who started the live performances.

The pandemic has hit the professional music scene hard, she said. The opportunities for playing live dried up, which was a source of income but also of camaraderie for the musicians.

McCarthy and his wife, Cathy McCarthy, purchased the building in April 2019 and converted the old offices into multi-purpose studios for private music lessons.

The school offers lessons on a variety of instruments as well as singing for all ages, including an early childhood music program for ages 4-7 called Little Rockers. The school also serves as the office for the McCarthys’ non-profit organization, Teach Kids Music.

McCarthy said he has seen a 50% decrease in student numbers during the pandemic, although students are starting to return.

The instructors, who are independent contractors, have all stayed, although the number of students has declined. Lea’s student pool has grown from around 12 to five, she said.

Students who have continued learn via Skype.

“As soon as all of this happened, I said to my wife, ‘we have to be the best at learning online now,'” said McCarthy.

It has invested in additional tablets for teachers, helping them to set up virtual learning in their homes or in school studios.

Lea said she retrained on the piano to accompany her singing students.

“We fixed the issues as we went along,” she said, adding that her students had been “very patient”.

“I think they just want to keep their connection with me and I want to keep my connection with them,” she said.

McCarthy has published over 120 music instruction manuals and video programs. He relied on these skills to develop distance learning courses.

He also researched other tips and tricks for virtual lessons, such as finding that the best angle for learning piano is with the camera pointing downward at the keys.

Compensating for the slight delay between video streaming participants was another thing he had to work around, as it made it difficult for teachers and students to play together.

McCarthy said he saw the pressure the pandemic has placed on his students. Often at the start of a virtual lesson, kids just want to talk for a little while, he said.

“A lot of people don’t bring it up, but kids it’s really hard for them,” he said. “They are at a point in their life where they are just finding out who they are, and interacting with children is really important to them.”

Lea said she is a certified life coach and works with many anxious clients which helps her understand what her students are going through.

“When I teach… it’s mostly about feelings,” she said.

Several students even songs written about their feelings and experiences during the pandemic.

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