Stay-at-Home Diaries | Danielle Ondarza, Woodwinds, Brass, Percussion Department Chair

On Thursday March, 19, Los Angeles residents were asked to stay in their residences and limit all activities outside of their homes beyond what is necessary for essential tasks. Days later, PCM adapted its lessons and programs and launched a “distance learning” spring quarter.

For this series, we’re checking in with students, instructors, and staff members to see how they’re managing and how distance learning (and teaching) is working for them.

Woman with glasses and french horn smiling

PCM: Where are you right now and who are you with?
DO: I am in our home studio, which is full of guitars! It is a sunny room with a view of the neighborhood. My husband (the guitarist) and I alternate using this room each day. We have two small children so this is the only quiet place in the house to work. It also has an ethernet connection which has become very valuable for reliable internet speeds while we connect with our students and colleagues during this time.

PCM: How are you feeling and how have you adjusted to life at home?
Today I feel great! The first few weeks were difficult. Both my husband and I are (were) live performers, playing with a different orchestra, show band, chamber music group, etc. every week. Losing that part of our livelihood all at once was a difficult pill to swallow. We also struggled with how to manage our teaching schedule and non-live work obligations with suddenly having two young children at home. But now that we have found our stride we are enjoying many silver linings: dinner with our kids every night (and time to cook the meal!), learning about what our first-grade son does at school each day and helping him grow in academic areas that are challenging for him, watching our daughter fly around the house in her daily rotation of superhero costumes, riding bikes and walking the dogs, and having a front-lawn picnic lunch every day that hasn’t rained.

PCM: What does a typical day look like for you right now?
I have the morning shift with the kids. We wake up at a friendly time and have a relaxing first hour. Around 9:30 we begin the school day, taking recess in between subjects. At 12:30 we take a full hour for lunch which includes the kids riding pedal go-carts, tricycles, and bicycles in a “track” designed by our son (aka the double driveway we split with our neighbor), playing hopscotch, building Hot Wheels tracks outside, and a picnic lunch. I come up to the studio to begin my teaching day at 1:30. My teaching day usually ends around 5:30 and I join the family for dinner and the evening routine.

PCM: In what ways (large and small) has the current situation impacted your studio/music educating experience?
In addition to the obvious challenges (finding an online teaching platform that is accessible and effective, technical issues, sound quality issues, connectivity frustrations, and picking up on cues that are harder to read on a computer screen), I found that I had to rethink how to explain proper production techniques. I always try to work concepts using techniques for all three types of learning: visual, aural, and kinesthetic. To continue to utilize all three methods of learning requires some new approaches and a lot of patience from both me and my students. It took about two weeks for me to find new methods that were effective, but I do believe we got there. Students are continuing to improve from week to week, which means we are accomplishing our goals.

An unanticipated benefit is that my students seem to be practicing a lot more! Most winds, brass, and percussion students use their school band as the primary inspiration and I was concerned that losing the daily immersion and fun that comes with the social gathering would result in a loss of enthusiasm for playing their instrument. In my studio the opposite seems to be true: students are more interested than ever in playing every day, and their practice is yielding excellent results!

PCM: What are you most looking forward to when everyone returns to campus? What, if anything, will you miss?
I am looking forward to unplanned personal connections in the hallways with colleagues and the interactions with other families in the PCM community; to the feeling of grabbing a coffee as part of a break, reflecting on the day so far and thinking about the rest of the day to come; to seeing my students’ smiles in person and interacting with their parents. But mostly, I look forward to making music in a room with other players again, both with my students and with my colleagues.

I will miss the time I have now to spend with my own family in the evenings and on weekends, and I will miss the fun insights into my students’ home lives as we talk about things in their house, meet their pets, and see their siblings pop in and out of the screen.