To end my 2019-20 academic year I have written a thank you letter to my piano parents. Written from my own personal perspective it reflects my own circumstances and current thoughts about my piano teaching in Autumn 2020. I share it here in the hope that some of you find it useful.
Dear Piano Parents,
Who would have thought, back in September 2019, that this would turn out to be such an unusual and eventful year! Over the last six months, our lives have been turned upside down by the arrival of COVID-19. What started as a small piece on the BBC 6’o clock news about a disease in a Chinese city has ended up dominating and occupying our every waking moment.
So I want to finish this extraordinary year with a brief look back and also a look forward into 2020-21.
- Thank you to everyone for the faith and trust you placed in me when, back in March I said ‘OK, we are going online’.
- Thank you for spending so much time getting everything set up from your end. It often took a few weeks, but I think we all got there in the end.
- Thank you for the marvellous level of support you have given your children. Without fail, you have been unstintingly positive and pro-active in helping them to continue with piano lessons.
- Thank you also for the level of support you have given me personally, from the smiles I see each week, to the offers of doing shopping, let alone flowers that arrive unexpectedly!
- Finally, thank you for valuing and appreciating the need for music and the piano in your children’s lives.
I know that life in lockdown for parents has been quite tough with homeschooling, working from home, looking after the family needs all making demands upon you individually. We have had to dig deep but what I have witnessed from you, week after week, is your unconditional love for your children. Just because everyone has been in the same situation doesn’t make this any less remarkable. You are all heroes.
It’s fair to say that there are some pros and cons of teaching the piano online! We have discovered that;
- the lag between us means that playing duets and singing together is challenging;
- poor wifi connections during lessons can cause communication problems: ‘I’m sorry, could you say/play that again‘;
- the additional hours spent staring at the computer screen drains energy
- the length of time it takes me to both prepare and write up lessons is double the time it used to be!
On the other hand, there have been quite a few positive discoveries. The main one is that teaching the piano online does work – everyone has made progress and learnt new concepts and skills over the six months. From my perspective, many of the children have positively flourished in the environment.
- They’ve become more self-aware and independent at finding their way around the keyboard and printed page.
- They’ve learnt to watch more closely when something is demonstrated and have learnt to concentrate for more extended periods.
- I’ve been able to monitor posture at the piano and the whole setup with the height of the stool.
- Online piano parties, with pets, games and performances all part of the mix, have been big hits and something that will continue even after face-to-face lessons resume.
Everyone has had their good weeks and bad weeks, of course (including me!), but we have all worked as a team to keep each other going.
WHY ONLINE STILL IN SEPTEMBER 2020?
As you all know, I have decided to keep teaching online for the foreseeable future. So when lessons resume in mid-September, we will still be online. I want to take a moment to explain why this is the best option for me.
As you all know, I teach from home, and my studio is, in fact, my living room. Family comes first, and with a member of my family in a vulnerable group, I have to continue to be cautious about visitors to my lovely, but small, Edwardian house.
I have one piano. Therefore, one keyboard which needs cleaning after every pupil, along with all associated surfaces (piano stool, music stand, door handles etc.)
All students would all need to come to the lesson on their own to minimize the number of visitors. Parents and siblings would have to wait outside the house. The children would all need to go through a rigorous cleaning ritual before entering. They would be responsible for sorting out their music and making any notes necessary, no matter what the age.
A 30-minute gap would be left between each family to give time for a thorough cleaning and airing process to take place. Even with just my twelve pupils, this doubles the amount of after-school lesson time I would need to find!
I would need to conduct the lesson at a safe distance, realistically, the other side of the room. There would be no demonstrations, no singing (still a high-risk activity), no movement, in fact, lessons would be a lot more limited than the current online model!
My heart sinks at even the thought of all this!! I am keen to teach everyone face-to-face again however the risks and limitations that would need to be in place still outweigh the benefits for me.
In September all lessons in my piano studio will remain online. The general situation regarding COVID-19 remains too fragile and uncertain in my view for it to be otherwise. I will monitor what is happening, however, and continue to re-assess when figures and research show more certainty. In the meantime, I am always being curious and thinking about how a new, possibly more hybrid approach to lessons might be developed.
I am optimistic and hopeful for the future of your children as resilient, creative and independent young musicians. I look forward to continuing to help develop and nourish their musical minds in 2020-2021.
FACING THE FUTURE IN THE PIANO STUDIO
Are you one of the many teachers who are asking yourself when and how to return to face-to-face teaching?
The Curious Piano Teachers is hosting a free webinar on Friday July 17 from 9.30-10.30am BST to help you make these decisions and face the future with confidence.
We will be discussing three different possible models and hearing from piano teachers who have already made their decisions and why. There isn’t a ‘right’ answer to this but we all need to have considered the different options. In particular we will be discussing:
1. returning to face-to-face and what it involves
2. staying online
3. developing a new, hybrid version of piano lessons
Registration is now open; just click on the link below. If you can’t make it live the replay will be available over on our YouTube channel within 24 hours.
This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, co-founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers