By Phil Beckly
GENEVA – The show must go on, and so must the arts instruction … even in a pandemic.
The faculty at the St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy has been able to continue teaching students by creative approaches. Arts for All continues, but many of the academy’s 300 students are learning online and at home, as shown by photos of students on the academy’s Facebook page.
In a recent letter to families and friends of the Community Arts Academy, the Rev. James Adams, Head of School, noted that following the governor’s orders on March 15, the academy shifted to on-line learning during the middle of the third academic quarter.
“It was heartbreaking for us to close our physical doors understanding how important the personal connection is when learning a dance technique, practicing notes and chords on an instrument or rehearsing a new song,” said Father Adams. “It is with gratitude that we recognize the extraordinary efforts of the faculty who rose to the challenge and began delivering their lessons remotely and creatively. With a show of continued commitment by the faculty, staff, parents and students, the on-line learning has continued into the fourth quarter.”
The Community Arts Academy offers lessons and performances in choirs, piano, violin, cello, organ, voice, dance and guitar for all ages. Until March 15 the lessons took place on the campus at 149 Genesee St., Geneva.
The experience of cello instructor Glenna Curren is a textbook example of making the best of a difficult situation.
“My students have been doing wonderfully,” Curren said. “We are all so grateful to be able to keep going. I have been able to continue my adult group classes, which honestly feels like a real treat to all of us. I think it is the highlight of everyone’s week! It’s difficult to play ensemble music over video, so we brainstormed other ideas, and the class has become a technique 'support group' where the students play their scales, etudes and ‘double stops’ for each other. I guess it’s more fun to work on the challenging parts of cello playing if you know you are all suffering through it together!"
"For private lessons I’ve been using mostly FaceTime and Google Duo, which both seem to have better sound than Zoom. While it took some time to get in a groove with my less-experienced students, we are figuring it out and it has been productive. I think everyone (especially adults) has been surprised by how effective video lessons can be. If anything, I think it has encouraged us all to be more engaged and to communicate more effectively — because we feel so far away from each other.”
Curren also has noticed another development. “I think the social interaction feels like a lifeline to all of us, as does having a meaningful hobby for the students. I am grateful that so many of my students have been awarded scholarships - I think it helps especially right now.”
Ben Ellis, guitar instructor, also noticed people finding “some peace and calm” in their music. “Remote teaching is going well. Actually, I’ve seen a lot of progress with the majority of my students. They must be getting some extra practice time in. Things are finally settling into a routine.”
Ballet School Instructor Alaina Olivieri said she is “teaching my regular schedule of dance classes over Zoom and supplementing with pre-recorded videos. My students have been wonderful about the transition. We all miss being in the studio together, but are happy to be able to continue dancing. Seeing each other at our regular time, wearing our class uniform and learning and rehearsing our recital dances has provided all of us with a sense of normalcy during this very abnormal situation. I am humbled by the dedication of all of my students and feel very fortunate to have them in my life.”
Wendra Trowbridge has dual responsibilities at the Academy. She is a voice instructor and the Director of three Community Arts Academy children’s choirs. She has continued teaching most of her voice students and says, “It’s been quite a learning experience doing lesson remotely by FaceTime and Zoom. I have made audio recordings for each of my student’s vocal exercises and accompaniments so that they can play them and sing along with them from home. This solved the “delay” issue with doing it live.”
Trowbridge has not been able to hold choir rehearsals because of the challenge of rehearsing large groups virtually. Trowbridge notes, “Noble attempts have been made to record ensembles in a virtual setting, including a small ensemble from one of the SPCAA choirs, but the result was inferior to live music making. Nothing will ever replace the synergy felt within a performing group. The rehearsals and performances of an ensemble are organic experiences that are ever changing and growing as you rehearse, build relationships and perform together. To say that this can be replaced by a virtual experience is just plain untrue and I am looking forward to the day when I can see everyone face-to-face again!”
Violin instructor Ellen Sonnenberg noted that “Online lessons have been going very well, and the students are enjoying them. I am really thankful for the technology we have during this time. One family informed me that they would not be able to continue lessons at this time, but would restart lessons once things return to normal. I am donating teaching hours to this family so they are able to continue with lessons. The priority is what is best for the students.”
“All the students in my studio have been continuing with their lessons and lessons are going well,” said Suzuki violin instructor Julianna Gray. “For many of the students, it seems the extra time at home has provided more practice time as they are sounding great. It’s been enjoyable for me to get this glimpse into their homes and many lessons include pets and pajamas. We’ve also shared many laughter-filled group classes as everyone seems to enjoy seeing one another. I look forward to the time I can see them in person, but they’re all continuing to play and improve despite the distance.”
Troy Slocum, piano instructor, found that group piano lessons presented challenges, but he has persevered and now has five half-hour Zoom group classes on Thursday evenings from 5:00 to 7:30. “Classes are focused on music theory instruction at various levels, he explained. Students will get an opportunity to play their pieces from their own home in a mini-performance for each other. Classes currently have three to eight students attending the Zoom sessions and for some students, this has provided an opportunity to be a part of the group class without the limitation of in-person class. I am grateful for their parents’ support and I am feeling good that we can still have a way to connect and learn music.”
Slocum has even been able to connect with a true “remote” piano student from Georgia.
Because some family incomes have been affected by the pandemic, the Arts Academy has arranged for interested people not affected to make a confidential donation toward providing a student the ability to take part in lessons through the rest of the season. Contact the Arts Academy at 315-789-0106 or send donations to St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy, P. O. Box 266, Geneva, NY 14456.
Besides causing adjustments in the Academy’s instruction, the pandemic caused the postponement of the Academy’s main fundraiser, the Dinner with the Arts, from March 29 to Sept. 20.
The St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy offers lessons and performances in choirs, piano, violin, cello, organ, voice, dance and guitar for all ages and now serves more than 300 students from 16 area schools in a five-county area in large part due to the dedicated core of instructors and staff, all of whom are professionals in their field. Embracing its theme of “Arts for All,” the St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy is open to students of all ages and levels of skill regardless of financial means or religious affiliation. Offerings will be expanded and enhanced in renovated space with a $4-million Capital Campaign currently under way. For donations or more information, check www.stpetersgeneva.org/give/community-a-campaign-for-the-future or https://stpetersarts.org/giving/be-a-friend-of-the-arts/.