Insights: Learning Music in a Crisis

A presentation of Keep Calm and Play On, this series of panel discussions brings together PCM faculty, students, staff, and families, to share their experience around teaching and learning music during LA County’s Safer-at-Home order.

Last Wednesday, moderated by PCM board member Laurie Sowd, faculty members Dr. Stephen Cook, Lindsay and Dimitris Dodoras, and Megan Shung, gathered together virtually to share their experience of adapting to teaching online.

Generally, they’ve found that students are practicing more during the pandemic. But the experience of learning music from home is incredibly varied for the students. Dr. Cook shared that, “One of the challenges we’ve all found in teaching in the virtual environment is the fact that everyone is approaching their lessons at a different level of equity. Many students may have siblings at home and they may be sharing devices. The WiFi connection or cell phone signal may not be strong or cut in and out… It’s just a wide range of levels of access.”

With distance learning playing an increasingly critical role in the delivery of music education for the foreseeable future, our teachers are going to great lengths to preserve the sanctity of the private lesson in a remote setting.

When it comes to PCM’s adult studies classes, Ms. Dodoras talked about how her adult students have developed this wonderful sense of community. And being able “to meet together each week has been invaluable, especially during these really tricky times. All of my students have said how much they look forward to each week, and just being able to have that face time together and still make music, despite everything going on. It gives us something to look forward to, a sense of routine, and a sense of familiarity.”

Ms. Shung, who is the Suzuki violin/viola program coordinator at PCM, shared how she’s been providing parents with the tools and encouragement for them to be the student’s “home teacher.” She also talked about how student behavior is a key piece of communication in any learning environment, but especially now; and that this is “a wonderful time to insert empathy first before our goals and technique and plan. Once you have the empathy, once [the students] have the place to be comfortable, then we have room to help them in their lives to improve their playing, finding out how music could be part of their community.”

During the pandemic, Mr. Dodoras has created, edited, and presented a number of innovative videos and collaborations with other musicians, including this video about composing music and this collaboration between Young Musicians teacher Sharon Weed and Ms. Shung playing the Cantina Band song from Star Wars. In the webinar, he also talked about the pressures of recording ourselves for lessons and performance. “Recording is a very intimidating thing… because you want to really get it right. And then you make mistakes and start thinking “Oh no, I have to do this again – let’s try it one more time…” And the more you record it, the more nervous you get. In the end you will be very happy with what you’ve been doing and performing, but at the beginning it’s always very intimidating to record something.”

Stay tuned for more webinars like this one. In addition to faculty, we’ll hear from families, students, and other members of our musical community.