Coping and Reinventing During Coronavirus Shutdowns

March 20, 2020, 2:28 PM · 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.

together separated

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, 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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March 20, 2020 at 08:14 PM · Hi Laurie, we live in CA too. With the "shelter in place" enforced, it certainly changes one's lifestyle.

Just like many kids across the country, our children's school has gone online. So what have we done?

I tell my children we need to adapt. More importantly, we still need to keep the same routine as if they are going to school and taking violin lessons etc., face-to-face with their teacher.

We maintain the same "structure and discipline" before covid-19:

1.) On weekdays, they still go to bed early and wake up early in the morning, eat breakfast, take a shower, dress up (although house clothes is fine).

2.) Start doing their school lesson online with their teacher and doing their classwork, and submitting them to their teacher.

3.) They still need to practice and prepare for their violin, or piano, or karate lesson, depending on what day it is.

We also allow them to play "virtually" via facetime with their friends and classmates. They seem to be enjoying doing this too. The other day, they started riding their bike in the backyard with Ipad attached to their bikes while their friends did the same thing. They were showing each other where they were going and how they were riding their bikes in their own backyards (looked and sounded fun judging by the sound of the giggles and laugh I heard from them).

Weekends? That's "free for all" day (lol)! Except we can't congregate with other folks.

Is it an ideal situation? Nope, it's not. But doesn't mean we can't find ways to make it work -- at least this is my opinion.

I realize each situation may differ from family to family. So I don't want to be insensitive about other family's situation.

March 20, 2020 at 09:04 PM · Here in NJ the current situation is a voluntary "curfew" from 8:PM till 5:AM, eat in establishments can only do take-out or delivery, No public gatherings of any kind, recommendations to stay indoors and hints that there will be more stringent.

My students are sending me video's of their practice and assignments, I e-mail comments and make the occasional phone call. I'm also finding music that simply makes them happy as part of the process.

The parents are overwhelming with offers to do our shopping and stuff since we're in our 70's - healthy 70's but still geezers and therefore "high-risk." We do grocery shopping a few times a week in the early AM when there are fewer people in the stores (albeit many shelves are empty).

We have a lot of time for our Music Librarian activities sorting, cataloging, et cetera - with over 60 years of music put in drawers instead of well organized files we have enough to keep us busy for a long time.

We take tandem rides around the village when the weather is nice, ride indoors when it isn't. More time for the cats (we are Child-Free - we don't dislike children, just never wanted our own). I play my violin daily, some time for skill maintenance, the rest of the time just plain old fun music, Show Tunes, Movie Themes, Jazz arrangements, light classics,...

Not sure how long this will last. The only positive is that being retired we're not having to deal with employment issues.

The only lesson we've learned is that much of the things that we thought were just so important, really aren't and some of the unimportant stuff really matters.

March 21, 2020 at 12:33 PM · I feel fortunate that I’m already pretty used to working from home. Like everyone else, I’m now home-schooling my pre-schooler, and she’s “teaching” my toddler. My daughter also had a lot of fun in her group violin lesson via FaceTime with her best friend. They liked seeing each other and learning music together.

March 22, 2020 at 06:10 AM · Hey Laurie; I, too, have basically zero experience teaching 1-on-1 online lessons and thus am undergoing a massive change right now. It's really stressing me out because I'm used to giving students my best, and now I'm not sure I will be able to. However, it'll probably become second nature in just a couple of weeks and I'm sure there will be productive portions even before that. And who knows, perhaps it will bring up some blind spots in our teaching! Sometimes the strangest things bring inspiration and new ideas.

March 23, 2020 at 02:04 AM · I am not going to do on-line teaching. I probably fit the definition of techno-phobia. Instead, I will try to finally finish my technical violin book, and find out if it is of any value compared to what is already published. J.Q. - B.C. (before computers) dinosaur

March 24, 2020 at 09:26 PM · I am so glad I got my electric violin several months ago. I can now use this with my digital audio workstation (DAW) to continue improvising and composing music, along with my midi keyboard. New Zealand goes into self isolation midnight tonight for 4 weeks. Essential services will remain open.

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