When the pandemic closed the PCM campus in March 2020, the first three quarters of the school year were already in the books. Most of the year’s lessons, recitals, and events that made up daily life on campus happened as they were intended — live and in person. The disruption that the shutdown had on PCM (and the world) early on was substantial, but at the time, the hope was that the pivot to distance learning and remote everything was a matter of finishing the school year strong and, for a brief period of time, keeping our community connected and engaged until the pandemic passed. However, as fall 2020 approached it became clear that what we had all hoped was a sprint was, in reality, a marathon. We were about to embark on an unprecedented full school year of remote learning.
We launched fall registration in late July with a full slate of virtual offerings that included individual lessons, Young Musicians classes, and adult group classes. We also introduced Practice-a-thon: a school-wide challenge to students and faculty of all ages, levels, and instruments. The project included “practice rooms”, group workshops, recitals, and a culminating concert, all in the service of keeping the PCM community inspired and committed to learning, performing, and enjoying music.
When asked how Practice-a-thon was going at the time, PCM parent, Kiku Iwata, replied that it “has been really great for our children… [it] brightens their life by bringing them together with friends, teachers, and PCM staff during these very tough times when our children often feel isolated. This has been a great respite and welcome break from their routine life — like a breath of fresh air — while also helping them stay connected to the PCM community!”
Throughout the fall, and the remaining school year, we shared new installments of Stay-at-Home Diaries and Alumni Check-Inblog posts as well as our weekly newsletter, Play On, to ensure that the community remained apprised of PCM news, programs, stories, and student achievements.
One of the many challenges in operating as a virtual school was providing students with meaningful performance opportunities. While our on-campus venues were dark for most of the year, we strived to present a wide variety of concerts. In the winter quarter, we presented student showcase recitals, studio and department recitals, a Suzuki violin and viola winter playdown, an Adult Studies Holiday Jam, and Cantare Chamber Choir’s Music is Where the Heart Is concert.
In February, we produced and premiered our third Musical Interlude — a series of concert-films that became a staple of PCM’s pandemic programming. This particular film was inspired by the novel The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks and was shot in Monk Space in Los Angeles’s Koreatown. The Vexations is set in a dark cabaret in Belle Époque Paris and offers a glimpse into the life and music of the eccentric composer, Erik Satie. The film features performances by PCM faculty members Dr. Nic Gerpe and Dr. Kathryn Eames, and is narrated by PCM Board Member Jane Kaczmarek.
Throughout the first half of the year — in a trend that would hold for the entire 2020 – 2021 school year — PCM’s enrollment hovered around 70% of what it was pre-pandemic, with a majority of the losses occurring in large group classes and programs that were difficult to replicate on an extended basis in a virtual format such as Young Musicians, Mariachi Pasadena!, and PCM’s youth jazz combos.
By the time spring arrived, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Covid-19 case counts in California were decreasing, vaccines were becoming widely available, and plans for a phased reopening of the campus were ramping up.
For nearly a year, our Covid task force developed, adapted, and revised safety plans, procedures, and protocols based on the guidance of local, state, and federal public health agencies as well as best practices adopted in local schools and peer organizations. In the spring, it appeared that we were close to putting our plans into action. With a long list of safety policies approved by the risk management committee and the board of directors, we announced that in-person individual lessons would resume in the summer.
While preparing for the summer reopening, we hired a new operations manager, optimized outdoor spaces as ad-hoc studios for in-person lessons, and presented our second faculty concert of the year, which featured instructors from our String and Guitar Departments performing unaccompanied pieces by J.S. Bach.
For the first time in over a year, on June 14, 2021, we welcomed back students for in-person, individual lessons. Slowly, through staggered schedules, masks, and social distancing, life returned to campus.
With in-person group classes and live concerts still paused, we presented a third faculty concert, a virtual senior recital, and our fourth Musical Interlude, Bel Canto.
By the end of the summer, we were focused on the beginning of a new school year; one that would require us to continue to adjust to a new normal, but that would largely begin in-person.
2020 – 2021 was a remarkable year full of unprecedented challenges and unexpected rewards. We discovered our community’s collective ability to persevere and work together to engage in a year of high level distance learning. We created a series of concert-films that showcases our talented faculty members. And through the experience, our community was made closer by the pandemic that kept us apart for an entire school year.
We are honored to recognize and thank those who made contributions in support of the 2020-2021 school year. Please click here for our list of supporters.