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.
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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