Essential ARTS: South Shore Conservatory Pivots to Support Communities During Covid-19 Crisis

SSC guitar educator Erik Caldarone engages with a private lesson student one-on-one in a virtual video conference class, courtesy image

Largest community school for the arts in MA provides creative solutions for its community of 4,500 students of all ages on South Shore and beyond – As the Covid-19 pandemic shuts down our country, our communities are disrupted, school systems upended, families placed in charge of educating their own children while balancing the daunting task of maintaining household finances amid layoffs and a recession. Where are the helpers as we navigate this unprecedented crisis?

Throughout history, humans have relied on the arts during times of turmoil. We see this now, as neighbors in Italy sing together from their balconies, and children practice cello on their neighbors’ porches. At South Shore Conservatory (SSC), the leading community school for the arts in Massachusetts, staff and faculty are experiencing a new passion to meet the challenges of social isolation through community and creativity.

The Governor’s mandated “social distancing” has reignited Anne Smith-White’s drive and fervor in her role as SSC’s Senior Director of Community Engagement. 

Anne Smith-White, courtesy image

“As we witness community choruses creating ‘singalongs’ through Zoom video conferences, entire orchestras navigating new technology to continue performing for their audiences, our own Boston neighbors finding camaraderie in singing ‘Sweet Caroline,’ we are captivated.” 

“Why?  Because our connection to the arts is an elemental component of our humanity.  Because we are relying on the arts as an antidote to combat social isolation, to calm our fears, mitigate mounting anxiety.  Throughout the world, music and the arts feel more important now than ever.” 

~ Anne Smith-White, SSC’s Senior Director of Community Engagement

SSC has provided arts engagement as an enjoyable and healthy alternative to isolation for the last 50 years, celebrating its milestone birthday in 2020. Its mission is to provide access to exceptional arts education and performance for the South Shore community, fostering creativity, artistic growth and well-being for individuals of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.  The institution, at home at three South Shore campuses, is the largest nonprofit community school for the arts in Massachusetts, serving all ages.

SSC teacher Karen Peterson and children continue the teaching from home for those now homeschooling young children by reading/singing/performing the story from a popular children’s book in a YouTube segment.
SSC Ukelele and Guitar Teacher Juli Finn shares a screen shot of her group ukelele class that has migrated to a virtual video conference online, with students from Hingham Council on Aging, courtesy image

“As arts leaders, we recognize that we have a responsibility to our community.  We’re constantly working to reduce barriers to access – finances, transportation, location and ability.  The difference today is this forced shift to virtual platforms which allows us to meet those all the challenges systematically and simultaneously,” shares Smith-White.  “We’re embracing this evolving situation, adapting hour by hour to accommodate everyone as best we’re able, because this is our community, our mission, our treasured neighbors that we serve.  They are our family.”  She notes that SSC’s faculty and staff are embracing the colossal effort to pivot to an array of online platforms –removing barriers to access while keeping individuals connected and engaged.  This is what the arts do best.

With 4,500 students participating in more than 50 diverse programs in music, dance and drama, response to the pandemic has engaged SSC’s staff and 100 exceptional faculty in acts of remarkable creativity, crafting new opportunities for distance learning.  The institution’s leadership team is devising an online platform of live and on-demand experiences to temporarily replace its highly regarded program continuum that inspires lifelong learning in the arts, engaging students from infancy through adulthood and seniors, entering at any point along the spectrum.   

“SSC’s Youth Orchestra has focused its approach to working individually with its members. Students are submitting videos to their ensemble director from weekly assignments taken from current repertoire. Each instrumentalist and instructor engage in a one-on-one mini-lesson online, focused on challenging passages in the music and solving technical issues.”

Elijah Langille, image by Michelle McGrath PR

“Meeting each student where they are musically is so satisfying as an educator, together we lay the groundwork to help them reach the next level. It’s important to realize that above all we are connecting with and supporting our students, so they understand that they are cared for both inside and outside the classroom. I’ve really missed having them together, as teaching them is always a bright spot each week. I’m also thankful to have an expanded opportunity to focus on this important learning.”

~ Elijah Langille, SSC Youth Orchestra Program Director and Symphony Conductor

In this new digital communion, SSC serves babies and toddlers with their caregivers through Music Together® programs broadcast on YouTube.  SSC’s arts-integrated preschool/prek/kindergarten teachers record on-demand content to assist families at home occupying their young ones in isolation.  Small group classes, such as Piano FUNdamentals, connect over video conferencing platforms such as Zoom.  Teens in the SSC Youth Orchestra ensemble engage in guided practice time with their music directors, affording individualized attention. Dancers in SSC’s ballet program continue building strength and skills in their living rooms following videos posted by their teachers.  SSC’s active rock band community is meeting live online, cultivating music business lessons on topics such as gig marketing, a facet of its program.  Individual lesson teachers are embracing resources like Skype, Facetime and Facebook Live, offering continuity and reassurance during this strange time.  SSC Community Voices, an ensemble for singers of varied abilities, involves its members through sharing song lists and practice recordings to enjoy at home.  Memory care activities are provided to individuals living with dementia through SSC’s partnerships with the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Associations, and local Councils on Aging.

A fun take on early learning about opposites for young student learning by SSC Communications Director and PreK Literary Specialist Elaine Sorrentino, and husband Ed Sorrentino, Percussion Educator, SSC Jazz/Rock/Pop Department Co-Chair and SSC’s Summer Music Festival Program Director

“I feel especially sympathetic to parents who have unexpectedly became homeschool teachers overnight. There are families managing busy careers from home, or who are considered essential workers 40 hours a week off-site,” says Smith-White. “Here at SSC, we feel a responsibility to help these families meet their children’s educational and expressive needs with resources that will help them build structure and routine while keeping their children creatively engaged and connected.”

SSC’s efforts are already seeing a broad impact, with plentiful thank you notes from parents rolling in, lauding the school’s dedication to each family and the greater community.

For the long term, Smith-White has her eyes on a brighter horizon.  “I hope in the future, once this critical time is over, that people continue feeling invested in and comforted by in the arts, and that they embrace arts enrichment for life, long after our society recovers from this time of crisis.”

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About South Shore Conservatory

Celebrating 50 years in 2020, South Shore Conservatory (SSC) is committed to providing access to music and the arts for South Shore residents. Recognized as a national model for arts education by the National Guild for Community Arts Education, SSC is the largest, nonprofit community school for the arts in Massachusetts, serving more than 4,500 students of all ages at two beautiful campuses in Duxbury and Hingham, and a new satellite location at Laura’s Center for the Arts in Hanover. Students participate in more than 50 diverse programs in music, dance and drama. With more than 100 exceptional musicians on faculty, SSC offers over 200 professionally produced concerts and performances annually. Through innovative partnerships with schools, social services and community agencies throughout the South Shore, SSC brings music and the arts out to the community to enrich the lives of residents. Through its Creative Arts Therapies, SSC offers the benefits of music and the arts to people with developmental and emotional challenges. For more information, visit

In keeping with SSC’s inclusive mission to provide access to quality education in the arts for all, the Conservatory offers programs for all segments of the population to enjoy, regardless of age, ability, geography, and financial means.  Furthermore, South Shore Conservatory admits students and families of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school.