Iowa Classical Music Education Moves Online

May 18, 2020

Remember that old recorder, band or orchestra instrument tucked away in the closet? Now is your chance to dust off your talents, get lessons, and dive back in. Some of Iowa’s top-notch classical musicians and music schools are teaching online music lessons right now using Facetime, Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts to keep music education alive during the pandemic.

The Des Moines Symphony Academy, Waterloo’s Music Hill School, teachers from the Quad City Symphony and Orchestra Iowa’s school are all providing virtual lessons. Most students receive their billing directly from the music school or reimburse the teacher through Paypal or Venmo.

“Once we found ourselves in this new set of realities, it immediately became an important mission of the Academy to assist our faculty and our students with a means in which to continue with lessons and classes to provide a sense of normalcy and routine,” says Joshua Barlage, the Des Moines Symphony Academy Managing Director.

Barlage is not alone in his concern to keep encouraging music students during these strange times.

Marc Zyla, who is the force behind the ‘Music Minute’ posts on the Quad City Symphony’s website, plays French horn in the symphony and teaches horn lessons. He also serves as the education director for the Quad City Symphony.

"I think it is very important that students continue to grow as musicians. Since we are not able to meet in person, I believe these online meetings are important to keep students focused on making progress,” Zyla says. “I have been surprised at how focused a majority of my students have been during this time.”

As concern starts to grow about children’s mental health as schools remain closed and public health advice suggests gathering in large groups is still risky, music lessons are also a way for students to maintain relationships with mentors and teachers outside the home. 

During times of personal stress, the guided performance and participation in music serves as entertainment, enrichment and therapy. - Myron McRenolds, Orchestra Iowa

Ed Flack is a percussion instructor with Waterloo’s Music Hill Studios. He’s been teaching online lessons and continues to encourage his students.

”The best part is that I maintain contact and continue my relationship with the student. I keep in touch and monitor their practicing and progress; making sure they don't "give up" during this period of separation.”

For creative minds, practicing music and having a scheduled music lesson can work as a way to reduce stress. Myron McRenolds is a teacher with Orchestra Iowa’s music school.

“Especially when music classes are no longer available through schools, the ability of students to receive the encouragement, feedback, and guidance they need is vital to continuous musical growth. During times of personal stress, the guided performance and participation in music serves as entertainment, enrichment and therapy,” McRenolds says. 

Seasoned teachers agree that while it’s important to maintain contact with students, transition online has had its share of technical hiccups, but until it’s truly safe to meet in person for lessons, it’s a good stop gap.

Flack, the percussion teacher from Waterloo, says it’s harder to make adjustments for students’ technique when teaching virtually, and lag time with some internet connections makes things more difficult.

“I cannot ‘lock-in’ with the student and play simultaneously for unified or contrasting rhythmic exercises which I believe is an important part of drumming. I cannot see their hands and sticks as easily, cannot physically adjust their grip, positioning​, and strokes,” he explains.

Sound quality has also been an issue for some teachers, and ensemble practices have been put on hold until organizations can find ways to successfully transition to an online format. But for now, most teachers are working with the options they have available to provide some normalcy for young musicians.

Flack says that while there are quirks, online learning has blasted the traditional teaching model into the twenty-first century.

"It is a very enlightening experience. Very ‘futuristic.’ I never envisioned myself doing this before.”

To get connected and schedule lessons with Zyla or  the Quad City Symphony Private Lesson Program, email him or visit the symphony’s website.

To schedule drum lessons with Ed Flack at Waterloo’s Music Hill School, check out their website.

To plan online music lessons with Orchestra Iowa’s school, find more information here.

And to get set up with the Des Moines Symphony Academy, please contact Managing Director, Joshua Barlage directly.