The First 'In Person' Violin Lesson after a Year+ of Zoom

June 2, 2021, 3:59 PM · Is that actually a knock at the door? Yes!

My seven-year-old student had arrived with his mother for his violin lesson last Saturday, and this was the first time in more than a year that I had seen him in-person. Wow! I'd seen him every week on Zoom, but this was different.

Boy with violin case
Image ©

I expected to notice how much he'd grown - and certainly he had. But to be honest, that's not what I noticed.

What I noticed was the difference in our presence together. When conversing in the Zoom universe, we were "together" in the same room, with one of us real and one of us on a screen. Yet both of us were in different physical places, so we were not literally together in the same room. And Zoom's lag time meant that we could not play together, interrupt each other (which is surprisingly important), or do anything that required physical interaction.

Zoom trained me to wait to comment, to take turns instead of doing things together, to let certain things be. On Zoom, I could not reach out and tune his violin, set the metronome (or find the metronome for him!), count or sing out loud as he played, adjust the shoulder rest, lift the scroll when the violin was drooping floor-ward, write a quick bowing or fingering into the music, etc.

Physical presence - this felt different. Now I could suddenly reawaken to all those possibilities -- the old approaches as well as new ideas that came to me. I realized that some of those coping mechanisms that I developed on Zoom are going to stick around, but only because they work for certain situations, not because they are the only option available.

It also felt strange to hear music coming straight from his violin. Listening over Zoom, you can imagine that the sound is coming from a student's violin (or a performer's violin) as you look at it, but it's not. It's quite literally coming from your computer speaker. This sound was coming straight from a small violin in my living room, operated by a small set of human hands. Wow.

I also realized we could play a duet together - and so we did! Moreover, I could adjust whenever needed, so we truly were together at all times. It was a welcome contrast to playing one-sided Zoom "duets" that involve me playing into a muted screen, unable to hear the student on the other side who is trying to fit their part with the harmony I'm creating. I'm looking forward to never again having to ask after a duet, "Were we together"?

If I'm honest, I was a little nervous about getting back to "in person" lessons, after more than a year of teaching on Zoom.

I'm not saying I didn't want to do it. But I realized that going back to "in person" teaching was not going happen like a simple flip of a switch - not for me, not for the students, and not for the parents. It actually made me pretty anxious!

First, there were all the COVID considerations. Since I teach at my home, I felt it was important that all the members of my household were fully vaccinated (both shots plus two weeks) before I invited anyone into our house. I'm happy and grateful to say that as of a few weeks ago, we are.

Next, I needed to check the vaccination status of my students and parents. I'm grateful to say that most are vaccinated as well, except for my students who are too young to be eligible for vaccination. For those, I feel it's very important to ask their parents if they would still like to wear a mask, and if they are wearing a mask I will certainly wear one, too. Sure, I'm vaccinated and extremely unlikely to transmit the virus to anyone. But there is also a social consideration. If an unvaccinated child still needs the protection of a mask, I will wear one with them, in support and solidarity. Kids need examples, and I'll support what the parent needs to do in this case. In all likelihood, we just have a few more months before young people can be vaccinated, too, and we can truly ditch the masks!

Logistics present yet another challenge, when going back to "in person" lessons - more for parents than for me. After more than a year of kids' activities taking place mostly over the computer, parents suddenly are finding every single activity, from school to soccer to music lessons, opening back up. That means they have to resume driving all over the place again, juggling schedules, making sure that Susie can somehow get to her piano lesson at the same time as Jimmy's baseball practice, etc.

So I am inviting them to come back for "in-person" lessons at their own pace, just defaulting to Zoom until they are ready and able to make the drive to my place. This works for me as well - it would be a little jarring to me if everyone showed up in-person all in the same week!

As for me, I now have to tidy up my studio. No more can I set up the sewing machine where the parents would be sitting - but then again, I'm no longer sewing masks. I also need to be able to toggle between Zoom lessons and in-person lessons, with easy access to all the equipment required for either one. I'm happy to do this.

This summer is a time of transition, and it's important to consider people's comfort levels, their current momentum and their pace in adapting to change. As we emerge from this long period of isolation and anxiety, let's treat one another with patience and empathy, as well as open communication. And let's enjoy being together and playing together again!

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June 2, 2021 at 09:33 PM · Congratulations Laurie on your re-opening! It must have been so nice to see your student in person again!

I like what you say about how zoom forces us to wait our turn to speak or play, a skill quite valuable in social interaction. Oddly enough, I "waited out" covid because I didn't want to take online lessons, resulting in 17 months without any lessons. Just 2 days ago I had my first zoom lesson (turns out I "waited out" my teacher's remaining time being local, so to keep her I finally accepted the zoom arrangement), and was surprised by how effective it still could be! Yes, in-person lessons are better, but maybe now I have a little regret that I let the year+ go by when zoom would have brought me plenty of learning after all.

Regarding what you say about some aspects of the pandemic precautions will persist after the re-opening, I think this is an opportunity to separate the chaff from the grain. My old habit of shaking hands was unhygienic, and remote work and video-conferencing overall can be more efficient and environmentally friendly than commuting or business travel. And the masks seem to have greatly reduced flu and common cold so maybe there will be times when I'll wear it just to avoid those problems when there are more sick people around.

Somehow I think that every once in a while I'll still want to venture into NYC for a live lesson, requiring a 4+ hour round trip. But we'll see....

June 2, 2021 at 11:41 PM · Unfortunately, there is now a 6 foot Grand Piano where my students used to stand, so that's going to be a little hard to move if I decide to start teaching again.

June 3, 2021 at 12:38 AM · I had a really funny experience when I taught my first in-person lesson after lockdown...I spent a couple of minutes feeling like a fish out of water as I remembered what the possibilities of a normal lesson were! I found my groove pretty quickly, but I hadn't realised how much I had changed my approach based on the benefits and limitations of the online tools. And that was only after around 1 month of lockdown in New Zealand - it must be crazy to have been online for a year!

June 3, 2021 at 02:04 AM · I was so overwhelmed with unexpected emotion when my first in person student came to lesson. I got choked up and fought back tears when she came through the door wearing her little mask.

June 3, 2021 at 08:57 AM · Ironically, after hardly any zoom teaching apart from 6 weeks in 2020 here in Australia, I have just taken on a student who is "on the road" with her family in a caravan, so is only available for zoom. She's a near beginner and I relate so much to all of the frustrations mentioned by Laurie.

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