At one of the last in-person violin lessons that I taught last week, my nine-year-old student was nearly inconsolable. A school trip she'd looked forward to all year was going to be canceled, not to mention that they were floating the idea of switching school to online classes. And why? For what? It just didn't quite make sense to her.
"I can relate. I've had a lot of things get canceled, too, and I'm really disappointed about them," I said. "We have to do this for everyone's safety, but I still wish I could do all those things I'd planned to do and see the people I want to see."
"Hey, I just thought of a new rhythm for us for 'Twinkle'!" I said.
She's well past Twinkle, so she looked at me with some skepticism.
"I'm so dis-ap-point-ed, I'm so dis-ap-point-ed...." That made her laugh. We played this new variation together, with me singing these new words, and then we were able to move on.
That was last Thursday, and everything went into rapid freefall from then on, as schools closed, events were canceled, and businesses were shuttered in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Three gigs I'd been asked to do at the beginning of the week had already been canceled or postponed indefinitely by last Friday. I hadn't even responded yet to one of them! One of my free-lance musician friends posted on Facebook, "In the last two days, every single job that I had was canceled." So many free-lancers and professional musicians have a similar story to tell: every message or phone call or text that they received for a period of several straight days involved a cancelation.
Two weeks ago I had given my private violin students the option of either coming in person or having lessons via Skype, but by last weekend it was clear to me that I'd need to give all lessons online. Things were moving so rapidly. So far, other private teachers in the area had not switched to all-online. By now everyone has.
Despite the many videos that I’ve made for Violinist.com, I had not taught one-on-one private lessons online before. The most helpful and hopeful message I received was some no-nonsense advice from violinist Christian Howes, who has been offering some great help for teachers switching to online (like How to Flip your Classroom or Studio & Really Teach Online.)
Chris said to me: "Get on Skype and ask your students to play their stuff for you. Tell them what to do and play for them and you’ll be surprised how easy it is. And how effective. Trust the process and yourself. It will be great, you’ll see. The main thing about what makes you a great teacher is 1. You care about your students, 2. You come to them at their level, 3. You know your stuff. None of this changes with technology."
It sort of made me want to cry. In a good way.
By now in Los Angeles we are in a total lockdown for an unspecified period of time. I understand why. In January, one of my friends whose mother lives in a small town near Shanghai started telling me what was happening in China. One day she was visibly upset, as a wave of lockdowns hit her relatives in Asia. "They are shutting the entire country down!" she said with visible astonishment. "My mother cannot leave her building without having her temperature taken!" Certainly this registered with me, but it still seemed very distant. The following week she reported that "The hospitals are so overwhelmed, there are people in the halls who can't get treated, and they have to decide who to treat and who not to treat." The following week the report was even more grim: "The morgues can't keep up; the crematoriums can't keep up."
She had this advice: "Every number you see about coronavirus cases - add a zero to the end. It's everywhere. It will be here. Wash your hands, don't go out if you don't have to...."
This seemed like extreme advice just a month ago, but as it turns out, it wasn't. Today I sit in a completely locked-down Los Angeles, in the completely locked-down state of California. I am very glad this state is taking extreme measures; I'm very worried for the places that aren't.
But certainly everything changed in the blink of an eye. Suddenly life has become completely domestic.
It's hard for a young adult to self-isolate, but my kids, age 19 and 22, understand it and are sticking to a very limited and consistent sphere of family and roommates. The last evening my college-age son Brian spent with his college buddies before they parted ways for who-knows-how-long, they recorded a song together called "Quarantine Dreaming," a catchy little tune that mixes their disappointment with their humor and their hope. (It's on Spotify and Soundcloud if you'd like to check it out, maybe create a TikTok in your spare time, after you figure out what TikTok is; I haven't...)
We'll all have to do a lot of dreaming, and we'll need our creativity, resourcefulness and humor to get through a long period of isolation and waiting. Wishing all of you physical and mental health, as well as some breaks to get through this financially.
Please share your stories in the comments.
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