Rhodes School of Music is continuing, online

| April 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

RAMONA BILLMEIER during her virtual lesson. Photo by Mary Rhodes.

The beat goes on at Rhodes School of Music, the all-ages music school overlooking Larchmont Boulevard — just not within its walls. In compliance with local and state-wide coronavirus measures, owner David Rhodes transitioned the school on March 15 from in-person to online music lessons.

The school did not previously offer any online classes. The facility had nine music studios with multiple lessons happening concurrently, but now, instructors use video conferencing platforms like Zoom and FaceTime to continue meeting with students from the safety of their homes.

“I have a great front desk staff, and they really stepped up to make sure all of the things were happening when they need to,” Rhodes said. “Having a good staff has really made the transition doable and better and successful.”

Rhodes was able to keep all of his staff, about 40 faculty members in total. Under California’s new AB-5 employment law, which went into effect this January and reclassified some contract workers as employees eligible for benefits, Rhodes instructors are entitled to sick days and unemployment insurance.

Piano instructor Philip Rankin credits the smooth transition to virtual classes, in part, to Rhodes’ dedication to fostering a technology-forward institution. With automated scheduling and monthly payments, the school had existing infrastructure to ease at-home instruction.

“Teaching out of my house feels way less stressful, probably because if a student isn’t here or I’m not teaching, I can do whatever I want,” Rankin said. “I’m really fortunate to be able to do this job. My girlfriend works for Trader Joe’s, and it’s way more challenging. It’s really hard to see her have to go in there every day because grocery workers are not doctors. They did not sign up for this. I’m really fortunate, and it’s simply because I’m at the school.”

In addition to overseeing the school, Rhodes teaches piano lessons to students like Julia Wolf, 11, who has been learning piano since she was five-and-a-half. She studied at the Rhodes School back when it was located in upper Larchmont, before its summer 2016 move to the current location, and she continues to learn during this change to online classes.

“I like them because, before, I was always a little bit late to class,” Wolf said. “Now I’m not late. I always log on early, and he just lets me in. I do everything he assigns, and I think it’s really helpful because I’m still learning my piano, and it’s basically the same kind of lesson.”

Wolf’s mother, Marisa Wolf, recalled her own experiences as a child taking piano lessons in her home and decided to send her daughter to Rhodes School so she could learn in a less distracting environment.

“I was kind of concerned about it at first,” Wolf said. “We’re still paying the same amount of money, and it’s going to be on the computer, and is this going to be worth it? And it’s actually been fantastic. In a way, she practices more now because we’re at home and we can’t go anywhere. It’s been better in a lot of ways.”

Karen Gilchrist’s son, Alexander, 6, takes piano lessons with instructor Chris Lee. Gilchrist wanted to ensure that despite having at-home piano lessons, Alexander could have direct interactions with adults beyond his parents and schoolteachers.

“I set it up so Mr. Chris can see his hands and his posture and the piano keys, and then I leave them alone, so they still have that one-on-one, and it’s not me overseeing it,” Gilchrist said. “I hear my son running down the hall to go get a sticker for himself, and it’s just so lovely, especially when every day blends into each other and he’s not seeing his friends.”

An unexpected outcome of social distancing practice is that students now have more time to practice. Instructor Rankin said some of his students have even begun to add more weekly lessons to make up for lost extracurriculars, but alternatively, the economic downturn has taken away others.

“I’ve lost a couple of adult students because they lost work,” Rankin said. “You keep thinking, once things get started again, then people will come back, which I think they will, but the longer our economy is in a coma, the less we’ll be able to come back and sustain.”

Online music lessons look different for students playing instruments. Instead of correcting students’ hand placement on the piano, Rankin has turned to using two devices — one to see his student’s hands and the other to show music books or blank manuscript paper on which he writes virtual ink.

Voice lessons too

Voice instructor Sara Sinclair Gomez said that her lessons have not had to change much, and in fact, technology offers singers even greater opportunities than in-person classes. She has students record lessons so that they can practice warm-ups throughout the week, and she has been able to teach students who have them how to use microphones.

Conferencing platforms also allow her students to see themselves during their lessons, which Gomez tries to do in-person with mirrors, so students can now monitor unconventional mannerisms in real time.

“When I’m in a regular voice lesson, the students are to the side of me or behind me, but it’s giving me more of a connection seeing the student in the screen, me staring at them and them staring at me,” Gomez said. “It’s almost better because they’re also able to look at themselves. Since we’re all stuck to screens, we’re basically singing into the mirror the whole time.”

Live music

In addition to lessons, Rhodes School has begun offering free Zoom classes so that its greater community can have the opportunity to listen to live music. Among others, “Songs and Stories” caters to kids under the age of three, and “Free Faculty Concert Fridays” is a weekly mini concert performed by a Rhodes instructor that is open for all ages. Rankin hosts “Phil Makes Crazy Noises!” where he plays on modular synthesizers and an oscilloscope to show how sound waves can be warped into creating music.

Rhodes said the free classes were a product of wanting to offer parents and kids more programming, and he expects to continue offering online classes even once restrictions are lifted.

“It challenged us to reevaluate our position in the community, and I got closer to understanding the value and importance that we are, not just as a business, but also as an integral part of the community,” Rhodes said. “We needed to ensure we are still providing what we were providing, just in a whole different way.”

Talia Abrahamson is a senior at Marlborough School.

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Category: Entertainment

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