By Jean Murachanian, Portland Conservatory of Music
It’s been a crazy year, to say the least, and we continue to face uncertainty in the near future. At the Portland Conservatory of Music (PCM), a nonprofit community music school in Woodfords Corner, the delivery of music education, concerts, and recitals have continued throughout the pandemic, albeit in a new online format.
We have been fortunate that our teachers, students, and families quickly made the transition to online learning and hence helped create a sense of normalcy so desperately needed at this time.
As music educators, we understand the benefits of music education.
Music has the power to heal and nourish the soul. It allows students of all ages to express themselves in ways that other forms of communication simply cannot. The disciple of daily practice sets the foundation for good habits and structure, while the resulting progress yields students a sense of confidence in their abilities.
As studies have shown, studying music is like exercising the brain. It enhances cognitive development and creates new neural pathways, which is probably why many successful people have studied music. Playing music in groups has the added benefit of building social skills, particularly listening and team building.
We were impressed when Conservatory faculty quickly pivoted to online learning this spring during the pandemic. It was a little bumpy at first, but it worked. So much so that we held online music recitals at the end of the semester.
To ensure that the recitals ran smoothly, we asked students to submit videos of their performances. Then we put the videos together into one-hour videos that aired live on Zoom.
We were impressed when our faculty quickly pivoted to online learning this spring. It was a little bumpy at first, but it worked. So much so that we held online recitals at the end of the semester. To ensure that the recitals ran smoothly, we asked students to submit videos of their performances. Then we put the videos together into one-hour videos that aired live on Zoom.
It was a sheer delight to see our families and their reactions as they watched the Zoom recitals. The new format had the added benefit of allowing extended family members from afar to enjoy the recitals.
Ocy Downs Piano Competition
We also held our bi-annual Ocy Downs Piano Competition online. We asked the performers to come into our studios one at a time to film their competition pieces. (Thanks to an arrangement with Steinway & Sons, the Conservatory is equipped with beautiful Steinway pianos, which are also available for sale.) The performances were then edited together and sent to our panel of jurors.
All the students did an outstanding job. The first and second place winners were our very own students, Michael Bostock and Quentin Wu. Both are students of Naydene Bowder, charter PCM faculty member. The video of Michael’s performance can be found on our homepage. Note, Michael is only 14 years old.
Portland Conservatory of Music goes online
What we’ve found is that like anything else, there are pros and cons to online learning. While online lessons are not quite the same as in-person, they are convenient. Also online instruction allows some students to participate more fully, encourages utilization of online enhancements, and has the potential for expanding our geographic reach.
To adapt to the new normal, we have been working on delivering a better online product this fall to provide online transparency and communication between teachers and students/families. This will include a user-friendly template for detailing items covered at each lesson with links to various online resources. We’ve also invested in high quality equipment so our faculty can teach online lessons from our studios.
Come fall we anticipate a hybrid approach, both online and in-person private and group lessons. However, we will not require anyone, faculty or students, to come in for in-person lessons if they are uncomfortable doing so. The safety of our community comes first.
As a community music school for all ages, abilities, and financial levels, we have worked hard to add a variety of group opportunities to create a sense of community and make music lessons affordable.
Group classes have included cello choir, chamber music (advanced and beginning), jazz history/theory/ensembles, Middle Eastern ensemble, beginning fiddle, and Cuban Rumba.
We also have the Boy Singers of Maine and the Girls Singers of Maine choral program for grades 2-12. On Saturdays we offer the Karger College Prep Program for advanced middle and high school students considering a future in music.
Thanks to the efforts of our faculty from our annual Faculty Fundraising Concert, we are able to offer need-based financial aid of 30-50% off the cost of lessons. In addition, we are currently fundraising to provide financial relief to those families (current and new) that have been economically affected by the pandemic through job loss.
It is a challenge running a nonprofit community music school, now more than ever. Although arts education is not seen as a primary need, it is a means of creating better citizens and enriching our community. Music is fundamental to our society.
If you’ve ever considered learning an instrument, we encourage you to register for our fall semester. We take pride in the exceptional quality of our instructors. As PCM embarks on its 25th anniversary, we are looking at how best to serve our community going forward. If you would like to help us in this endeavor, please contact us. We are always looking for volunteers, board members, and of course, donors.
Jean Murachanian is Executive Director of the Portland Conservatory of Music.