My longest job has been as a piano teacher. When I joined Early Music Vancouver three years ago, Matthew White, the Executive and Artistic Director, insisted that I could still teach while being the Marketing and Volunteer Coordinator. He followed through on his promise, allowing for a flexible schedule so that I could continue teaching from my parents’ house in Burnaby.
I stopped teaching in-person in March and switched over to online remote lessons. It’s not a perfect substitute, but it’s good enough. I can tell decently well when the left hand is overwhelming the delicate cantabile of the right hand, I can instantly tell when a note is wrong thanks to perfect pitch, and I can tell reasonably well if a student is rushing the tempo, though I sometimes I wonder if it’s just an odd lag in our connection.
Although these online lessons cannot completely replace in-person lessons, they provide a sense of normalcy during a time that is completely unprecedented in our lifetimes. While many have turned to baking and cooking to gain a sense of agency when so much of our lives is dominated by uncertainty, the same can be said of these piano lessons. They provide a schedule, structure, and a goal.
Moreover, these lessons give me something else to worry about. When I’m teaching I don’t think about how there is no vaccine for COVID-19 and that producing one in less than two years has never been done for any vaccine. Instead, I am thinking about how I can get my student to play the technical passages quicker and lighter in a sonatina. I am planning out how many more lessons a student will need before their exam. I am trying to come up with more melodies that sound like a major 3rd interval because my student does not know the songs “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In”, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, or the theme song to “The Simpsons”.
It is very hard for me to separate myself from what is going on in the world. Continuing piano lessons during a pandemic allows me to focus my energies on an unimpeachable good. Perhaps more than my students, it has provided me with the sense of normalcy that I need and will continue to need until there is a vaccine.
For my musical offerings, I am playing for you the Okinawan folk song “Hatomabushi” on the shamisen, also called a sanshin. I don’t have a piano or even a keyboard in my apartment so I had to grab this from my parents place and re-learn how to play and read the notes. As you’ll see in the video, the notes are all in “kanji”. Normally, this song would include singing and there would also be a small taiko set up with people dancing on stage. You can get an idea of what that might look like in my other offering.