Interview: Music Lessons Go Digital

Originally posted at Limelight Magazine:

Template 258x173We speak to Australian musicians working around the world about how they are responding to the challenges of teaching music remotely.

By Angus McPherson on April 21, 2020

Many musicians supplement their performing income with teaching work – but just as the concert halls and theatres are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with social distancing measures in force and students staying home from school, music lessons are also being put on hold. Suddenly, music teachers around the country are having to adapt to a new world in which online lessons are the only way to continue making a living. Meanwhile, performing artists facing down the prospect of months without any of their regular income streams are finding ways to make ends meet by offering online teaching and consultation. We speak to Australian musicians working around the world about how they are responding to the challenges.




London-based Australian conductor and founding Artistic Director of Ruthless Jabiru, Kelly Lovelady, is also offering her expertise online, with Sounding Board – consultations for composers interested in conductor feedback on their ensemble scores or sketches. “When I’m preparing a score to conduct I always gather a list of provocations and/or ambiguities that I then take back to the composer where possible,” she says. “The ensuing discussions often lead to revelations about the piece which would never have come up through the score alone. I like to kick off these sessions by email so the composer can consider my observations in their own time without being put on the spot. From there it’s great to take it to a video call so we can brainstorm around the possibilities without the finality of email. I’ve been approached now and then out of the blue by composers for feedback on a score I wasn’t previously aware of or actively working on; and been honoured that they value my input! For me it’s a great way to get acquainted with new people, new repertoire, and potentially open the floodgates to future programming ideas. I’ve been thinking of offering this sort of outreach for a while so now seemed as good a time as any to put it out there.”

As for the challenges, “I am emphatically not a composer!” Lovelady says. “I’m continually in awe of what you all do and have no agenda to prove anyone wrong or anything along those lines. I do however think the process of filtering a piece through another brain is a really useful and, in my opinion, necessary part of its evolution. My imagined sound of a score will be largely be in experiential terms: what are the logistical implications of delivering this passage; how do the visual/spatial/physical aspects enhance or conflict with my understanding of your intent here; how does the balance work there etc.”

Lovelady was “ecstatic” to have her idea endorsed by composer Andrew Ford. “Kelly’s good and very detailed. Young composers – and even old composers – will learn things from her,” Ford wrote on Twitter.

Rather than charge a fixed rate, Lovelady has adopted a Pay What You Can arrangement, and is willing to take payment in other forms, such as networking, collaboration or skill swaps. “I think the current situation has brought the volatility of musicians to the fore with the new awareness that so many of us are living month to month on an ever-fluctuating freelance income,” she says. “I’m really not interested in disaster profiteering from colleagues who are already on a knife edge. In addition to the financial unknowns, not everyone is feeling creative right now so I’m offering this idea as an opportunity for co-inspiration, network building, solidarity etc; and hope it might be of value to anyone who needs that as I know I do!”

“I also think the share economy is a great way for people to gain some clarity around their own assets and whatever hidden bounties they might have to offer others in our community,” she said. “People can read some proposals for live or virtual barter on my website but I’m equally open to alternatives so to anyone interested: make me an offer!”





These musicians are by no means the only ones adapting to the new realities imposed by the COVID-19 crisis. The Australian National Academy of Music has just unveiled a digital training program to continue delivering classes during the pandemic – which includes shipping gear and instruments out to musicians – while in New South Wales the Australian Music Examinations Board is now offering Video Repertoire Exams online (though the organisation says comprehensive music exams are not able to be offered at this stage). Meanwhile, Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music has introduced a new online teaching series within its performance practice workshops, called Prestige Artist Series 2020 – and these are just a few examples. Everyone has been forced to adjust. While questions remain as to how long social distancing measures will make online learning a necessity, there’s no doubt the teaching landscape will be indelibly changed when the world emerges on the other side of the crisis.

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