Editor’s note: This is a weekly series focusing on the importance of buying local.
The music might have stopped on the national stage and with concert venues for now.
But the COVID-19 pandemic cannot stop the music totally.
Locally, teachers and coaches are using technology to help in being local with teaching vocals, piano and all sort of instrumental lessons through Zoom, Facebook Live and online.
“It’s been a transition,” said Bill Teck, a co-owner with his wife of From The Top Music Shop based in Monongahela. “On the whole, it’s been wonderful. It’s been a little challenging to get set up initially, but it has worked.
“We wanted to and it’s a nice way to keep kids busy.”
So vast are From The Top Music Shop’s offering, the company has seven teachers all over the area giving lessons in piano, guitar, all string instruments and drums.
“Most major instruments,” Teck said.
Teck said his instructors exchange information with their students through text messaging and emails. The instructors often send students music or materials to review before their next lesson.
Sari Gruber, artist lecturer/voice at Carnegie Mellon University, teaches vocal lessons from her private studio in Mt. Lebanon.
She works with high school and college students, professional performers and Broadway actors and actresses.
Teaching via the internet is not new.
“I’ve been teaching online a long time,” Gruber said. “Some students aren’t accustomed to it. I’ve had to make some adjustments and there can be sound issues.”
Gruber is an acclaimed recitalist and the 2005 Naumburg Competition first place winner and has appeared numerous times in solo recital at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York City – in addition to other noted recital venues.
She believes in remote learning. Gruber doesn’t solely instruct on sound whether in person or online.
“It’s not just about sound, I also teach structure. There are vocal cues (mouth, throat and so on) involved in my teaching. I don’t just trust the sound. I’m used to teaching this way (remotely). It’s just the way I teach and it’s not such a bad thing.”
Kristy Ochs, is an elementary music instructor in the Elizabeth Forward School District. She offers private vocal and piano lessons with most of her students coming from the Belle Vernon Area School District.
She said the transition to remote teaching “went smoother” than she anticipated.
“I was used to Zoom and other types of online learning, so I didn’t have to teach the technology,” she said. “Music is so good for our kids and it helps keep them going.
“It’s never good to take two or three months off of any kind of studying. It’s important to continue to learn and grow. When things happen out of our control, we can adjust. It doesn’t replace person-to-person teaching and learning, but it does allow for continued learning.”
Justin Douglas and Brian Smith work for David’s Music House in Waterdam Plaza on Route 19, McMurray.
“We’ve made the switch,” said Smith, guitar/general music instructor. “It has progressed. I prefer Zoom with the screen sharing. After the lesson is over, I provide a brief synopsis of the lesson for the parents.
“There’s nothing like the speed and chemistry of person-to-person learning but this has changed our perspective a little bit.”
Douglas focuses on piano and vocals.
He communicates with students through Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram, providing them the sheet music for the next lesson.
“I think we’ve all learned to be a little more self-sufficient,” Douglas said. “I’m actually doing a lot of one-hour sessions, combining the vocal and piano lessons fifty-fifty.”
All the teachers conclude that the remote learning has added an option for students. Pre-pandemic, a student would have to possibly miss a lesson because of travel, weather conditions or feeling a little sick. The remote option can help avoid missed lessons and learning opportunities.
“It’s definitely going to help in that area,” Teck said. “It’s also going to help us expand our geographic area. We can teach students in other states. This is pretty nice for doing that.”
Gruber worries about the economic impact on the industry.
She said it will be one of the last industries to come back.
“The impact on my students and the professionals is immense,” Gruber said. “We’ve been so impacted. No one is performing live. I hope we can figure out a way.
“Obviously, singing is dangerous when performers are face-to-face. Singing can impact people 14 feet away. You have to be concerned about anyone on stage, other performers, stage managers, directors, anyone else there.
“It’s very hard to teach performance-based lessons in an online capacity. But we have to be able to react. A lot of research is being conducted right now. We don’t need to be spreading (this) virus further.
“It will be tough for Broadway performers and orchestras. We can’t be doing those things. We can’t be reckless. It’s not looking great right now (for face-to-face learning and performances.
“This (remote teaching and learning) will continue over the summer.”
Those interested in joining the Be Local Network can contact Chris Slota at 724-225-1326 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Discount cards are available at the Observer-Reporter and Almanac office, 122 S. Main St., Washington.