Local instructors adjusting to online sessions
Teaching music via Zoom has its quirks and limitations.
“It can be really slow and then fast. I’ll hear nothing for 3 seconds, and then hear everything that I should have heard — all at once,” said Pam Hunt, who’s been teaching about 30 violin and cello lessons a week via Zoom during the state’s stay-at-home order.
With spotty and inconsistent internet connections, interactive online platforms like Zoom often experience a time lag that makes the audio and video jarringly out of sync. But for people in the Methow who’ve been teaching music, dance and yoga online, the delay is more of an idiosyncrasy than an impediment.
Technology has let musicians continue to hone their skills, kept people limber, and maintained livelihoods. Others are teaching art or holding virtual races. It’s also preserved an important sense of community and normalcy.
“It’s different in the studio, where everyone’s energy vibes off one another,” Erika Spellman, co-owner and teacher at Agni Yoga, said. “I think people are doing it to stay connected to their yoga practice — and to some kind of normal and to community.”
For Spellman, teaching online is a far cry from the real thing. “As an instructor, I’m in there myself speaking to a computer,” she said. “I have my laptop on a chair in the middle of the room, and see a grid of students.”
Instructors have found that online classes work better with a one-way feed or when they take turns. Most of Spellman’s yoga students disable their own video feed. She shares her playlist so they can all do movements to the same music.
The instructors have all had to adjust how they teach. Spellman can’t correct individual postures. Instead, she offers basic reminders about supporting the core or extending a leg.
Agni Yoga’s studio is heated, which allows muscles to warm up more quickly and makes movements easier. Without the ambient heat, the instructors are doing more cardio movements to create internal body heat. They’ve also modified some movements to avoid injury.
“As a teacher, I want to provide for my community. I miss my students,” Spellman said.
After talking to other musicians who were teaching via Zoom and getting tips from the Suzuki Association, Hunt plunged in. “There’s a technical learning curve,” she said. “It helped to know I’m not alone.”
Hunt has had to find creative workarounds since she can’t offer corrections or comments while a student is playing, because using her mic at the same time interrupts the sound. So she created a collection of illustrated sticky notes with sharps and flats and bow movements that she can hold up to the camera. About one-fourth of her students decided to wait for in-person lessons to resume.
The Suzuki method encourages group instruction, but that overwhelmed the technology. Although a dozen kids logged in, most said their screens kept freezing and they couldn’t hear anything. Questions piled up in the chat box. “Who’s playing? What are they playing?”
So Hunt abandoned the group lessons. But she plans to try an online student recital this weekend.
Because the sound quality on a laptop is shrill, Hunt can’t expect the same level of excellence she would in person. She also can’t play along with a student. “That’s the thing I miss the most — they just innately pick up your body language, dynamics, intonation,” she said.
But everyone is progressing, and there are some advantages. Some of Hunt’s students spend the summer in Alaska, and they’ll now be able to continue their music lessons online.
Zumba on Zoom
Tani Erickson has been offering Zumba classes from her living room for a couple of months.
After a trial run with her daughters in Seattle, Erickson invited her students from the Twisp Movement Studio. Soon her energetic dance sessions expanded to include a Seattle ski club, a Meetup group in Bellevue, and friends and relatives in New York and Michigan. She’s also led classes for Methow at Home and Winthrop Physical Therapy & Fitness. “It’s been a wonderful experience,” she said.
Because it’s harder to follow dance steps on a computer, Erickson has simplified the choreography. Students turn off their video because the lag between the music and the feet can be distracting.
Each session starts with upbeat Latin music. “As the faces pop up on the screen, you just feel part of a community,” Erickson said. “Everyone’s in their living room. No one’s watching. They’re probably freer.”
“It’s kept me full of purpose. It’s just nice to do to keep our spirits up,” Erickson said.