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Music to their ears: Sistema maintains youth connection
Monday, April 13, 2020
Music to their ears: Sistema maintains youth connection
Benjamin Smith watches his teacher, Ian Gibson, over video call. Sistema Saint John, an organization that teaches kids how to play instruments, has made the shift to online learning during COVID-19.

Emma McPhee | Telegraph-Journal -- Monday, April 13, 2020

SAINT JOHN • Sistema Saint John music centre has had to change a lot about the way it teaches kids how to play an instrument during a pandemic.

When COVID-19 shut down New Brunswick schools, the music program had to figure out how to deliver music lessons to 225 kids scattered across Saint John. 

"Initially, you know, we were doing some private lessons online, like individual with a kid and then putting up a video here and there," said Rachel Kidd, the Saint John centre's director.

Realizing that social distancing was going to be the reality for the near future, Kidd said they decided to make the leap to teaching groups of students through the video conferencing platform Zoom.

It might be difficult to imagine how one teacher is able to teach a group of students learning how to play the violin at the same time over a video call, but Kidd said they formed a plan.

"The kids will just be on mute," she said. "Instead of getting that whole class sound, because of the delays and stuff, it's not really possible. But we can do solos to make sure the kids all understood it."

Kidd said she knows the new format will present a few challenges.

"It's not uncommon for a kid to just run out of the room and play with their brother for a second and the phone is left on the music stand. So yeah, it'll definitely be a learning process," she said.

Another challenge is just getting the kids set up for online lessons. Kidd said she spent Wednesday driving around Saint John with a trunk full of violins to drop off to students. The students usually meet together at Millidgeville North School and don't take their instruments home. 

In addition, some students don't have internet access at home, so Kidd said the centre's staff are looking into finding sponsors to provide internet and a tablet to families without access.

Beyond keeping up with music instruction, Kidd said maintaining a connection with the students that usually spend three hours every weekday with their music teachers and peers is more important than ever.

"Half of it is just about connecting them socially again, so they don't feel quite so isolated," she said.

"What I've noticed is just absolute joy hearing from their teachers. We just figured this is such a challenging time. If we can provide some consistency for them, that is definitely in line with our social mission of helping them achieve their best through music."