March 18, 2020

Music, Dance Lessons Continue Via Technology During Shutdown

STAYING IN TUNE: Seven-year-old Albert Zhou keeps up with his cello lessons by Skype with Laurie Cascante, his teacher at Westminster Conservatory of Music. (Photo courtesy of Qiwei He)

By Anne Levin

The coronavirus has resulted in the temporary shuttering of schools, music studios, and dance schools. But many area teachers are not about to let their students fall behind. Using Skype, Zoom, and other technology, they are continuing lessons and keeping their students engaged.

Princeton Dance and Theater has been filming classes this week to share with students on the studio’s YouTube channel. On Wednesday, the school plans to present a live class from its studio in Forrestal Village, with four siblings from the Jorgensen family, aged 11-22, all of whom are students at the school.

“This will be something students can do in their living rooms or kitchens, holding onto a chair as a barre,” Risa Kaplowitz, director of the school, said on Monday. “I scheduled the first class within 12 hours of deciding we’d have to close. We need to keep our students dancing. And I am committed to paying my teachers. So we’re just keeping it going, virtually.”

At the Martin Center for Dance in Lawrence Township, Douglas Martin held an advanced ballet class Monday via Skype. It went well, and he plans to continue. “I have a number of totally dedicated dancers who were upset about not taking class, so we put this together,” he said on Tuesday. “I’ll keep expanding it to whatever point we get to.”

Seven-year-old Albert Zhou thinks taking cello lessons via Skype is “kind of cool,” he said on Tuesday. “I like it better.” His mother Qiwei He said that Albert especially likes seeing his teacher Laurie Cascante (this writer’s sister) on the television screen. “That way, it’s not just on the Ipad, and he can directly talk with her. I think he’s quite excited to see Miss Laurie on the screen.”

Cascante said she enjoys teaching via technology because it forces her to be more articulate. “I think when this crisis is over, my in-person teaching will strengthen as a result,” she said.

Mark Johnstone, who teaches classical guitar at Westminster Conservatory, said he decided to hold classes via Skype when one of his students canceled due to the COVID-19 situation. “I thought, either I watch all the rest of my students cancel, or do it this way,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, my students have agreed to do it. It kind of makes sense because if you can, you want to keep the lessons going.”

Though Johnstone would rather be giving guitar instruction the traditional way, he has adapted out of necessity. “It’s not my preferred way of teaching,” he said. “Phones are designed for one-way communication. There’s a delay, and the sound quality isn’t all that great. And part of my teaching is to play along with my students. Essentially, that’s what music is — playing together, making sound at the same time. So it’s kind of exhausting, because a lot of things I usually convey just by playing now take a lot of words to describe.”

As the crisis continues, local arts organizations are continuing to find ways to keep audiences engaged. Princeton University Concerts this week sent subscribers a list of online live performances by the Metropolitan Opera, soprano Joyce DiDonato, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and others that might appeal to listeners.

“While we miss sharing live performances with you and are working on ways to remotely connect you with our artists and provide other curated experiences, we wanted to share an initial list of online live performances that you may enjoy in the meantime,” the email to subscribers reads. “We will continue to add to this list in the coming weeks on our website, so if you stumble upon other resources, please send them our way.”

While group classes and ensembles are off limits for now, local teachers of music and dance are continuing their efforts with individual students. Some are trying to keep the mood light.

“I inject humor into my teaching quite a bit, and in this format it’s a lot of fun,” said Cascante. “For example, when I want to acknowledge a job well done by the student, we ‘tap’ bows by tapping our respective screens. It looks like our bows are going to pierce through our computers and reach other. That always gets a laugh. And if it’s getting toward the end of the lesson and I can tell the student has had enough, we finish by playing a ‘duet.’ I put duet in quotations, because our audios are never synchronized. So we play the duet and then we laugh. It’s a good way to end the lesson. They all need to laugh, especially now.”