It’s been more than a year ago now that COVID went and wrecked all of our plans, from the biggest to the smallest. We did our best to recreate church and school and work on a computer screen—but what about the little things, the extracurriculars that infuse life with interest and meaning?
Thanks to the Evergreen School of Music, my daughters were able to continue their piano lessons with Elizabeth Barmann, soft-spoken and full of grace and hope and everything else you want a piano teacher to be. Ever working for her students and willing to try something new, Barmann moved her piano lessons to an online model shortly after quarantine began.
“We were quite surprised when we were facing COVID and we were in lockdown,” she explains. “We were told to put everything on hold. But our owner-operator, Kevin, contacted his teachers from the studio and encouraged us to think about Zoom or online lessons, and try to continue with our students.”
Barmann, who has taught a side-by-side model for decades, initially chuckled at the task of restructuring for online. “I thought, oh, good grief—I cannot imagine! But I had some experience FaceTiming my grandchildren, trying to coach them or encouraging them to play. So, I decided to try it—and I’ve been really pleased.”
Prone to find the positive in everything, I wasn’t surprised that “Ms. Elizabeth,” as she is affectionately called in our home, easily transitioned to online learning. But much like COVID has encouraged us to seek out the silver linings, even with Zoom piano lessons there have been obvious benefits.
“I have parental support!” Barmann says. “Not that the parents I’ve worked with haven’t been supportive [in the past], but now parents are present during lessons. They’re actively present.” This is usual in the most obvious ways, like technical support or assistance in explaining what is lost in translation, but Barmann has found that parents are also more aware of their child’s growth.
“The feedback from parents has been positive,” she says, adding that the increased intimacy of “coming into her students’ homes” has also benefitted her students’ growth. “In the studio, my time with parents in passing was really minimal. I’ve been able to make more connections with my families. And I’m a believer that relationships strengthen everything we do.”
Relationship-building has made it easier to adjust when the going gets tough in a lesson. “I don’t only have a musical influence over these students. But hopefully I’m a positive influence as well—not just in how they’re playing the piano, but how they’re doing in life.”
It’s a personal rapport that makes it easier to deal with the more comical aspects of online learning, from wonky camera settings to pets visiting lessons with their own contributions. “It’s different distractions that you wouldn’t have in a studio, which is a closed room. But I try to be a transparent person, and I embrace it!”
In some ways, the challenges have actually broadened the experience for her students. For example, Barmann recalls a tuning incident with one student—their piano being a half step or more different from her own. “I had to transpose my music and play in a different key on my piano so that it sounded alike,” she says. But these instrumental differences only encouraged stronger listening skills, and she has delighted in observing her students develop a musical ear. “I wish I had measured and could quantify how listening skills have grown in my students!”
Barmann says she has learned many things through an online model, tools that she plans to continue to use even when she returns to the studio, from new resources to lesson pacing to leaning into her tendency for student-led learning. “I’ve always been told I’m patient, but this has called upon me to grow in my own patience. And one of the things I’ve learned is that we haven’t moved along as quickly as I might have in the studio; but this has allowed us to go back and play things, and the level of mastery has grown. It’s given [the kids] time to go back and play and be confident. Which probably enables them to try new things.”
Like a good teacher, Barmann is learning along with her kids, from commanding online platforms and methods to discovering new opportunities. She has even gained three new students since switching to an online model—including two in another state!
“I see a huge benefit of the [online] experience,” she says. It was especially fun when one student’s family spent weeks safely traveling across the country in their camper. “They took a keyboard along, and it was so much fun—I felt like I was traveling with them! We had lessons from a state park, we had lessons from grandparents’ house on the east coast. We didn’t have to stop piano!”
And this got Barmann’s wheels turning, considering her children and grandchildren live elsewhere in the world. “There might be times I go for an extended period, and I can coordinate my piano lessons.”
Travel plans aside, the Evergreen School of Music is making preparations to reopen, and Barmann, along with other teachers, are onboard. “I will be returning to the studio, and as my schedule comes back together, I will probably increase my lessons,” says Barmann. “And I do hope to fill those slots—in-person or online!”
For more information, contact the Evergreen School of Music at 303.679.2900 or evergreenschoolofmusic.com.