Teaching on ZOOM

This past weekend I taught a ZOOM nyckelharpa workshop for the American Swedish Institute- a great honour I can tell you, as I am a relatively new player and teacher when it comes to  the nyckelharpa.  I have worked hard and progressed quickly on the instrument, and I think my different musical background has served me well.  Although I did not grow up in the Swedish tradition, I must say that there is something about this music and culture that just reaches my heart.   I can’t wait to get back to Sweden and learn more, and immerse myself in the summer festivals!  It is a rich culture, with a vast repertoire of music and dance.  I call it Sweden’t Secret 

The ASI Workshops and Concert (super fun to experience, even on ZOOM) were well received and the Festival Organizers were right on the ball with the technology and organization.  For an online Festival Event, this was one of the best I had attended, so well done ASI! 

But, teaching on ZOOM… 

As a teacher of the violin for over 30 years, I am used to working “hands on” with my students and also hearing them well, and immediately.   ZOOM does not offer either of these things to the music teacher, especially when teaching in a group situation.  I have to say I am surprised that a tech wizard hasn’t come up with a better interface for musicians during these COVID times.  ZOOM is still pretty primitive when it comes to teaching music.  How can you teach anything as a music teacher if you can’t hear or see the students properly?!  It’s kinda bonkers. 

For the nyckelharpa workshop, it felt more like a lecture than me actually teaching. There is nothing more eerie than speaking to lots of people in boxes on a computer screen, and not getting much back in return.  When students try what you suggest, they are on mute so there isn’t a cacophony of sound while everyone does individual practise.  It’s just WEIRD and  frustrating for the teacher and students, not hearing sound in the normal way.   In the hour long workshop we worked on two tunes, and I covered a lot of ground in that short period of time.  I had no idea if what I was communicating was being understood, because normal communication was simply not available.  It wasn’t until well after the workshop, when I received an e-mail  from the organizer, that I learned she had been happy with what I had done.  That was really nice for me to hear, but still leaves me uneasy, because normally I can gauge how things are going just by being in a room with people! 

I would think most people don’t really understand this frustration that musicians are experiencing right now.  Not only is working online very difficult in terms of making ends meet, but in a way I feel completely silenced.  Musicians rely on DIRECT communication through their instrument, not this taping and regurgitating stuff that we are all doing because we have no other choice.  Once my bow hits the strings, communication has started with that live audience.  In return, I rely on the energy of the audience (again, communication) to shape my performance.  These days I sometimes wonder if people remember the sound and experience of live music, for music making certainly feels awful to me at the moment.  Perhaps when we return to live shows, the public will realize just how precious this really is. I certainly do. 

I know that we have to make do with what we have, and that this online stuff is better than nothing – it is true.  Count your blessings I suppose.  But I for one will be ECSTATIC when we can say goodbye to this ZOOM interface, and move back to normal human interaction!!! 

Time to go find some chocolate…