Elena Reekie talks about teaching piano online during lockdown. Video / Included
When New Zealand went into lockdown, piano teacher Elena Reekie faced a tricky problem.
The Auckland teacher takes one to one lessons and has group lessons for up to 7 students gathering with their electric instruments.
But the self-isolation rules meant Reekie – and the 90 or so music teachers in schools and music education centers across Auckland – had to quickly find a way to keep classes going while staying safe from coronavirus.
“On Monday, when the Prime Minister announced we would have to lockdown on Wednesday night, I and a colleague sat down and found that there was something we had to do to get (classes) online,” Reekie said.
“We practiced in two separate rooms. The biggest issue we had was the lag, the delayed audio coming from the other end. What we usually do in a class is play together, I accompany while the kids play with me. We got around this by muting the other person. If I’m playing and the other person is muted, if they hear it on the other side and play along, it sounds perfectly in time. To them it sounds like they’re playing to the beat and they’re with me.”
By muting their microphone, the student can hear Reekie’s piano and play along without the video call delay: the sound of his piano can interfere with the audio transmission and potentially interrupt the teacher. The teacher can still watch the student’s hand while they play along.
Once the technical problems had been overcome, it was now a matter of convincing the other teachers, students and parents of a good idea.
The teachers really embraced the new system and said it felt a bit strange at first, but after a while it started looking like a normal class.
A new teacher who just started this year reported that one of her students didn’t have a keyboard at home, so Reekie half-jokingly suggested that they download a keyboard app onto their tablet.
“And then she comes back to me and says, ‘I have 5 students and only one of them has a keyboard.’
Four of them had the keyboard app. The excited teacher told Reekie, “And it worked like a normal class.”
“But you can really only do that with beginners,” she adds.
Russian Reekie began teaching shortly after arriving in 1998 when she met her future husband, Lionel Reekie. He is an accomplished piano accordionist who has played with Bella Kalolo and Phillip Fan on a unique rendition of Lorde’s kings at the 2013 Apra Silver Scroll Awards.
He suggested that she start teaching after hearing her play. For Reekie, online instruction will never replace the classroom.
“Making a personal connection with students is really, really important,” she said.
“Right now it’s difficult (with online classes) when the student is playing something you really have to wait for them to stop before you can say something. I can’t keep count, I can’t help them keep the beat. You really need the human connection.”
Sometimes online connections don’t live up to expectations, she says, and she’s had to relocate some of her regular students from their normal Saturday spot as her husband and daughter both teach from home, leading to some degree of digital overload.
“Other than that, it’s like a normal class. It’s bizarre how normal it is,” she said.
The move to the internet has resulted in some students dropping out, with an average of only two-thirds attending online classes.
“That’s obviously a big percentage drop in your income. If it’s a short-term thing, the business will likely survive. If it’s a longer term thing, more than 2 or 3 months, then it probably wouldn’t be that good for business.”
Reekie has just over 80 percent of her students using the Facebook Messenger-based method.
Some of the teachers were concerned about being friends with their students on Facebook, but Reekie claims that’s not too much of an issue.
“I’ve been very careful about what I post on Facebook for a while now,” she said.
Reekie is reasonably positive about the future.
“Now that the school holidays are coming up, people don’t usually have classes, but because people have nothing else to do, they might have classes. But on the other hand, I don’t know how that could have affected my students’ financial situation. There will be people who will be affected and those who want to have lessons may not be able to,” she said.
“We’ll see how it all plays out – it’s a bit early to tell.”
• Covid19.govt.nz: The government’s official Covid-19 advice website