These photos were taken exactly 1 year ago at my studio-wide “piano party” on March 1, 2020. I had 40 piano students over to my house that day and they played music for each other, played some games and we put together some huge ensemble performances at the end. As you can see, it everyone had a great time and social-distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizer weren’t even crossing our minds.
11 Days later, I would teach my last “normal” piano lessons.
Looking back at these pictures from just one year ago completely blows my mind. I’ve scrambled into survival mode since that day and I honestly don’t think I’ve had a minute to even process what we are going through and what is happening as we navigate this pandemic.
So much has happened, yet, there is a heavy stillness that makes time seem to move so slowly.
Grieving What We Are Missing
It’s so hard to not think about all that we have missed out on in this past year.
My studio was bustling with small group lessons throughout the week. Four eager piano students would show up together for an hour, have a blast learning piano with a few friends around and leave with a giant smile on their faces. We’ve made the shift to all private lessons this past year for ease of scheduling and to minimize group gatherings. Every single day, I long for the day when we’re all back in the studio again in our small groups.
I’m super fortunate to have a team of assistant teachers who help me with lessons each week. In our group format, there was always a synergy between me and my assistant teachers. They were right there in the studio with me and things ran so smoothly and efficiently. These days, we’re all tucked away into separate corners of the studio and my house, often teaching into an iPad. Some weeks I feel like I barely see all these teachers, even though they all spend hours in my house each week. We frantically text information to each other to each before, during and after lessons and all of hours of the day and night. I absolutely can’t wait to be teaching side-by-side with my amazing team of teachers again.
The first thing to go when the pandemic struck last March was our recital that was scheduled for March 28. We were 100% prepared for it and we had spent our last week in lessons together polishing up performances. 75 students were going to perform in 3 separate recitals that afternoon. Since then, every other performance opportunity my students could participate in has also been canceled. The energy and excitement of these events has been so absent this year. It’s been hard to muddle through a year with no direction and no tangible performance goals.
I could go on and on. I so miss the studio that I left behind on March 12, 2020. Some days, as I sit in my kitchen, teaching through a window, I can’t even believe that this is where we’re at. My beautiful, fully furnished piano studio gets a fraction of the foot traffic it’s used to. My assistant teachers are sitting alone behind a closed door instead of working right beside me. Lessons are interrupted with quarantines, patchy internet signals, and screen-fatigued piano students.
The Silver Lining
I participated in Davis Dorrough’s presentation called We Survived 2020: Now What?
Davis encouraged us to not look at all that was missing in 2020 but instead find things that we have learned and gained through this tumultuous experience. Perhaps there’s something even better on the other side of all of this than what we had before.
Now that we’re a full year into this mess, I’m trying to heed his advice and look to the future of my piano studio. It got me thinking about all of the tools and resources that I’ve come to rely on in my new normal. I’ve learned so much and while I’m completely exhausted, I know I’ve grown more that I ever could have imagined in just 1 year.
Davis’ presentation encouraged me to count my blessings and find 20 new things that will stick with me even after the pandemic is over. There’s no need to erase this past year and slide back into what was familiar. Instead, we can cultivate something new and discover an even better new normal.
20 Things From 2020
Here are 20 new things from 2020 that will stick with me and my piano studio beyond the pandemic.
1 Zoom: A year ago, I had only ever used Zoom a handful of times. It’s really incredible how many times each day I rely on it right now. There are times when there are 4 different Zoom calls happening simultaneously in my house. I spent a lot of time in the early pandemic testing out different video chat platforms and even pursued some built specifically for music lessons. I’ve kept coming back to Zoom because it consistently works well and is so accessible. I’m sure I won’t be canceling my business subscription any time soon.
2 Julie Duda Music Studio Piano Games: Julie is a friend of mine who I actually met right her on my Very Piano blog. She is a wonderfully inspiring teacher and she is also the mastermind behind one of the Internet’s best kept secret’s: A treasure trove of super creative games and teaching resources for piano students. Tons of her games are adaptable for in-person or online lessons. My students LOVE playing them and they’ve added some much needed fun and laughter to our lessons lately. Click here to check out all that she has to offer – you’ll be amazed!
3 Internet Midi: This magical software enables 2 long-distance digital pianos to connect to each other via Midi. I use this consistently with a student who lives overseas. Sometimes I’ll get my computer and piano connected a few minutes before his lesson starts and as I’m preparing for his lesson, I’ll actually hear him warming up on my piano! Internet Midi allows ultimately allows the 2 pianos to control each other, so I hear the sound of my student on my Clavinova, rather than through Zoom. The sound is perfect.
4 Canopy Tent: I bought this canopy tent to create an outdoor piano lesson space. When we have mild weather, it’s nice to have the option of having lessons outside. I’m sure I’ll continue to find excuses to be outside with students even after the pandemic.
5 Extra Keyboards: I’ve made a point to keep students pretty spread out this year. At any given time, we usually have 3 different lessons going on in different spaces. I had to invest in a couple of new instruments to make this happen, but it’s really nice to have them around. I had a long-term goal of adding a 3rd Clavinova to my studio for my group lessons. I went ahead and got it at the beginning of the school year, along with 1 more portable keyboard. I’m pretty sure I won’t have any trouble finding ways to continue using them.
6 Tonara: I started using Tonara immediately when the pandemic began. It has a lot of functions, but I primarily wanted to use it as an easy way to track what students are working on and playing. With so many teachers helping out, it’s nice to have a record of each student in 1 place, so that any teacher can check in on what a student is learning. I always love using paper assignment books, but for students who are mostly online, something digital makes more sense.
7 Midi Cables: Midi cables have turned into quite a staple in my studio. Between using them for Internet Midi and using them to connect the pianos in my porch piano setup, they get a lot of consistent use around here. One of the things that is really handy about using Midi cables is that the keys on my Clavinova light up when the opposite piano is played. This makes it really easy for me to hear and see when my students miss notes.
8 Project Broadcast: I discovered the Project Broadcast app just before the pandemic, but it has become a crucial way for me to stay in touch with my studio families. It makes it really easy to send mass texts to all families groups of families to make announcements for things like scheduling and reminders.
9 Upbeat Music App: I’ve been really intrigued by ensemble performance videos I’ve seen online since the beginning of the pandemic where you see group members performing from their own little square. I looked into a number of options and discovered that Upbeat Music App makes long-distance ensemble performances really easy. My students are currently working on a duet project using this app and it’s been a fun way to collaborate, even while most of them are apart.
10 Piano Marvel: Piano Marvel is another app discovery from 2020. This is my son’s absolute favorite way to practice piano and I’ve had a lot of success using it with some of my students as well. It has a giant library of music, plus interactive features that make it easy and fun to practice music. It’s one of the most pedagogically sound learning apps I’ve found, so it’s definitely sticking around.
11 Fresh Air: In the fall I added this simple screen to my studio doors so that we could keep the doors open as much as possible. It feels really great to have fresh air in the studio, so I’ll definitely continue to open the doors even when we can all comfortably breathe the same air again.
12 45-Minute Private Lessons: While I really miss my group format, one change that I’m enjoying is that many of my middle and high school students get 45 minutes for piano lessons now. It’s been a nice change of pace to dig in deeper to their music with them. When our groups are back in action, I’m going to definitely find a way to continue giving the older kids more one-on-one time.
13 Long-Distance Piano Students: I’ve actually been teaching long-distance piano students online for over 10 years, so that is nothing new to me. But, I’ve appreciated how the pandemic has normalized online learning. I’ve acquired a lot of new long-distance students this year and I love that it’s so easy to reach people all around the world now. Some of our students are just an hour away, but prefer not to make the commute while there are others all the way across an ocean.
14 Teaching From A Separate Piano: I haven’t sat at the same piano as a student in almost a whole year now. Sometimes it’s a little tricky to explain or demonstrate something without being really close, especially to younger students. But, for the most part, I love having my own keyboard so that I can demonstrate things even better and play along with my students.
15 Adaptability: We have become so flexible with how to accomplish a piano lesson. In a moment’s notice we can easily shift from planning for an in-person lesson to moving entirely online. It’s nice that we can accommodate so many circumstances. I hope that we get to a point where we don’t need to be so accommodating, but it’s nice to know it’s possible.
16 Long Distance Guests: My music teacher’s association as been taking advantage of our time on Zoom to have out of state guests join our meetings. It’s been fun to expand our horizons and meet with experts that previously seemed out of reach. Even when we can meet in person again, it exciting to think of how easy it is to zoom in other guests to our meetings.
17 Student Independence: One huge perk of the pandemic is that many students have had to become more independent. Being physically separated from their teacher means that they have to keep closer track of their own books and assignments. They have to create their own systems at home to stay organized and stay on top of practicing. I’m sure a lot of students still need some guidance in this department, but for the most part, they’re really rising to the occasion. When my porch piano students finish up their lesson, they have a little cleaning routine where they wipe down all of the surfaces that they touch. I’m really accustomed to helping students pack up, get their things ready and get out the door, but they’ve learned to be completely independent with these tasks. It feels strange to me, but I just sit at my piano and chit chat with them while they tidy up since I’m in a completely different room.
18 Week Night Carry Out: Pre-pandemic, our family was in the habit of having 1 meal out each week and it was usually on a weekend when we were already out and about or when we were in the mood to get out. Since every day in the quarantine life feels exactly the same, we started making a point to patronize different small local restaurants on my busiest teaching days instead of on the weekends. It’s a fun way to end a busy day and it’s nice to not have to coordinate a more complicated dinner plan into my teaching day.
19 Video Performances: No recital, no problem. I think we’ve successfully found a way to ensure that no grandparent, friend or piano fan ever has to miss a student’s performance ever again. I’m pretty sure streaming recitals, video recitals and performing for an audience on a screen is sticking around for the long-term, even when our beloved in-person recitals return.
20 Family Time: I’ve always strived to keep a pretty good balance between my work and family time, but that became even more crucial this year as my kids were home full time and I became responsible for their virtual schooling. I know that this situation has been stressful for many families, but it turns out my kids love being at home and we’ve actually really enjoyed our extra time together. When they’re back in school and our family returns to busier schedule I hope we remember to keep some time and space for just our family.
I’d love to hear from you! What are some parts of 2020 that will stay with you for the long-term? Leave comment below and share!