South Shore Conservatory teaches the world to sing and play online

South Shore Conservatory piano department chairwoman Sarah Troxler gives online lessons from her home studio. (Image courtesy, South Shore Conservatory)

THE BOSTON GLOBE – No sports. No restaurants. No live theater or going to the movies. No playground gatherings. And now, just as spring settles in, parking lots are closed at state beaches.

However, South Shore Conservatory’s Anne Smith-White insists, there is still music.

“Music is happening like this all around the world,” the conservatory’s director of community engagement says. “People are performing in their living rooms and kitchens, wearing everyday clothes, and talking to their audiences like longtime friends.” Some of those living rooms and kitchens are on the South Shore.

Faced with a sudden and uncomfortable silence when COVID-19 restrictions went into effect last month, the community music school — which offers teaching and enrichment to some 3,500 students through 50 programs ― worked hard and fast to come up with a working alternative.

“In two weeks,” Smith-White said, “we went from teaching no lessons online to teaching 76 percent of our lessons online.”

Ordinarily, South Shore Conservatory offers lessons and programs at its Hingham campus and at satellite locations in Duxbury and Hanover.

Using streaming services on social media and programs such as Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype, the school’s artist-teaching faculty made the new reality work. One primary school music instructor teaches violin and cello to children ages 4 and 5 while parked outside her local library, Smith-White said, in order to take advantage of the publicly available Internet there.

Examples of online lessons are available on the school’s website, sscmusic.org. In one video, primary school teacher “Miss Karen” (Karen Petersen) sings the weekly supper menu in Eric Carle’s popular kids’ book, “Today is Monday,” joined by two young pupils who pop up on the chorus to chant, “Come and eat it up! Come and eat it up!”

In another lesson for young people, titled “Miss Elaine and Eddie Spaghetti,” Miss Elaine begins by announcing, “Today we’re here to talk about opposites.”

“No, we’re not,” Eddie contradicts, in a clear example of teaching by doing.

Older and more musically advanced students receive their tutoring as well. In one online example, guitar teacher Erik Caldarone patiently urges student Rynn Wilson to improve a basic acoustic riff requiring coordination between the strumming and fingering hands.

“Remember, a little slower,” Caldarone counsels. “A little slower will make this happen for you.”

It’s happening for almost everybody, the school says. In a program for adults, Juli Finn ordinarily teaches a group ukulele class at the Hingham Senior Center. Now she shares a photo of the music online — with finger placement — and everyone plays along.

Beyond improving their skill, young people benefit from the continuity of regular lessons, according to their parents.

“The feedback we get from families is that children having some consistency in their lives by meeting regularly with their teachers is so important,” Smith-White said. Having goals and working on pieces in both private and group lessons is especially valuable in a time of disruption, she said.

South Shore Conservatory also has recently expanded what Smith-White called “the community engagement piece” by putting online — for the first time — live performances by faculty members. The new service is found at sscmusic.org/ssc-online/ and is free to the general public.

Performance videos include Mark Goodman and Jennifer Cope Goodman combining on “Tit 4 Tat,” a jazzy number on piano for four hands.

Voice instructor Emily Browder Melville, backed by a young vocal trio, sings the American Songbook classic “Help Me I Think I’m Falling.” And Mary Cicconetti performs an oboe recital, accompanied by Leah Kosch on piano.

Smith-White said the school’s teachers will continue to add performance videos of their concerts to this site.

People also are invited to check out scheduled classes, performances, and other activities on the school’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/SSConservatory/.

Scheduled postings on a recent week include YouTube versions of Miss Elaine reading preschool classics such as “Rhyming Dust Bunnies” in the morning, and making “monsters” with yarn and pipe cleaners in the afternoon.

The conservatory also is putting a major fund-raiser online. Called Performathon, it’s ordinarily a store-based fund-raiser held at Barnes & Noble in Hingham, seeking to raise money for scholarship assistance. This year, students are posting videos of their performances online and requesting donations from family and friends to sponsor their performances.

Last year, the effort raised more than $150,000 to help pay tuition for those in need of assistance.

By Robert Knox

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