After months of teaching on Zoom, MetroWest music schools sound cautious but hopeful about returning to in-person classes, but virtual sessions remain an option.
“It was definitely like reinventing the wheel every few months and trying to figure out how people are doing right now,” said Jennifer Tefft, owner and teacher at Franklin Music, Movements & Mindfulness, which provides early childhood music education for kids and adults her children offers caretaker.
Tefft went online, offering outdoor classes and now hosting socially distanced classes at a local indoor soccer field. She said teaching via Zoom has inspired her to be creative when involving her young students. She even met her pets.
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“Zoom is hard enough when you’re an adult, let alone trying to get a 0- to 5-year-old audience to engage with Zoom,” Tefft said. “I’m not going to lie, there were days when I would sit in my family room and be silly and sing songs and do those things to completely blank zoom windows on my computer. All the toddlers ran away.”
Virtual might not be the best solution for the youngest aspiring musicians, but it offers flexibility.
“Usually the students called in sick, that was it. The lessons were a wash,” said Max Larson, manager of Center Music House in Framingham. “Now we can at least offer the virtual aspect, so they can stay at home and not risk anyone getting sick, but also keep learning, and the same goes for our teachers.”
Located on Route 9 since 1973, the family-owned shop offers private lessons, instrument rentals, supplies and sheet music.
“It’s a place where people can come together to share music, talk about music, and you can’t really replicate that online,” Larson said. “It feels kind of weird how quickly it feels normal again.”
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Never too late to learn
“Music is like a language. If you don’t use it, you lose it,” Tefft said. “The more you can strengthen these pathways in your brain as children develop on their musical journeys, the stronger their foundation will be for everything they do musically later in life.”
Aspiring musicians of all ages can visit Encore Music Academy And Recording Studios, which has been around since around 2011 and was co-founded by longtime friends and collaborators Lisa Ostrow and Patrick Dreier. The school is also part of the Royal Conservatory of Music and has students who have distinguished themselves enough to have performed at Carnegie Hall.
“When you think of a music school, most people think of a seedy old place,” Dreier said with a chuckle. “We’re not. We try to create a welcoming environment.”
Ostrow said Encore has plenty of space with room to grow at its Franklin location, which occupies an entire building customized for the company, including practice rooms, a recording studio and many instruments. Ostrow said her favorite part of her job is teaching.
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“I could have a terrible day. Be honest, we all do. And then one of my kids comes in for class and they come in the door and they tell me about their day and we talk for a minute,” she said. “I usually come out of class at the end of the lesson feeling upbeat and fine. They bring that. They bring energy to the place. They bring life and exuberance.”
The youngest student in the school is under 5 and they once tutored an 87 year old. Adult students were everything from previous artists to complete beginners, Ostrow said.
“We pride ourselves on adults coming back. You’re never too old to learn,” said Ostrow. “We’re really trying to make music as accessible as possible so that they can feel safe walking in and trying something so completely foreign.”
Dreier said the hardest thing for adult learners is finding time to practice.
“From the time an adult wakes up to when they go to bed, their whole day is mapped out,” Dreier said. “I literally tell my adult students at the end of their first class, ‘Look, this is the hardest thing you’re ever going to do.’ ”
One of these adult learners was Dawn Reda. She and her two children have been going to Encore on and off for about seven years. Encore features ensembles for vocals and instruments. Reda joined an instrumental ensemble with her daughter, and they weren’t the only mother-daughter duo they joined.
“It was a lot of fun. We learned that it’s very different from playing individually. We had to learn in an ensemble how to listen to each other and listen to each other’s voices,” said Reda. I felt very welcome to join the group…all ages are definitely welcome.”
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Reda said she was impressed with the instructors, who she described as “professional, friendly and caring,” and appreciated the flexibility in scheduling.
“Zoom was good when we needed it,” she said.
Encore started offering in-person classes again in September after more than a year of running the business virtually, but Zoom isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
“This has become our new norm and will remain part of our model going forward,” Ostrow said. “We will offer the option to anyone who wants it.”
Lillian Eden can be reached at 617-459-6409 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LillianWEden.