Confucius once noted that, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Whether singing or playing a musical instrument, the joy that comes from making music is unparalleled.
Nearly a year into a global pandemic that has forced social distancing, North Hills’ residents are turning to the power of music to help them cope. Local music programs are reporting an uptick in the number of first-timers interested in learning to play a musical instrument or in taking vocal lessons. Students already engaged in music lessons have found new and creative ways to continue taking them, even during the shutdown.
While COVID-19 has posed challenges to the way music lessons are delivered, local music teachers and music centers are rising to the occasion.
“Technical challenges are the biggest impediment to virtual lessons right now,” said Brad Wittmer, owner of Brighton Music Center, explaining that his instructors have adapted by incorporating cloud-based business and education app TeacherZone. “It helps keep our online lessons consistent.”
The virtual lessons are going so well that Wittmer said that even once things return to some semblance of normalcy, the music center will continue to offer online lessons as an option for students.
“It has allowed us to significantly expand our client base,” he explained. “Students who moved from our area and were unable to continue their lessons in person can now continue with their music teachers here virtually. We can attract students from areas that are not within driving distance to our in-person lessons.”
Maryann Perrotte, co-owner of In Tune With the Arts Studios, said that their in-person lessons were shut down for six months. Fortunately, during that time, they were able to offer students remote lessons through Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype.
“We looked at the shutdown as an opportunity to think creatively and to look for innovative ways to broaden our impact by delivering private lessons remotely,” she said.
Lift Up Your Voice…or Your Ukulele
Musical instruments, particularly those for school bands, are always popular. However, Wittmer said that with schools delivering remote instruction or hybrid models, his rental business is down this year with the suspension of many in-school music lessons and programs. Instrument sales, especially among newbies, is up, especially for used instruments. Another trend is reserving mouth-heavy instrument lessons for online instruction only and using protective equipment made especially for woodwind and brass instruments.
Surprisingly, the most in-demand instrument right now is the ukulele, according to Wittmer. It is not just popular among younger students, but older students as well. He chalks up the instrument’s growing preference to its versatility and how easy it is to learn to play. He even had an entire chorus group decide to give ukulele playing a try after their singing practices and performances were upended by COVID-19.
“It is truly becoming an instrument of the world. Even drummers are picking them up,” he said. “It is one of those instruments that doesn’t hurt to play. It’s comfortable to hold and easy to learn.”
Roughly half of his current students are adults, with most of them learning the acoustic guitar and the ukulele. New students who are interested in playing but do not have a preference may want to try the ukulele or a percussion instrument. Both are easy to learn. With drums, students do not need to learn to read music. They only need to learn to keep the rhythm. “We all need a good pounding on the drums once in a while to get some stress out,” said Wittmer.
Perrotte said that the most popular choice among her students continues to be voice lessons. From 6-year-olds learning vocal techniques for the first time to students who are honing their skills for Broadway performances, their vocal lessons support a variety of talent.
“We offer everything from jazz and opera to musical theatre and rock-and-roll while helping students focus on the genres they are most passionate about,” Perrotte said.
Middle school students may be excited about an a cappella singing adventure that Perrotte’s studio launched in 2017. It consists of large and small vocal groups that learn a cappella songs and perform them at a professional venue such as the Hard Rock Café in Pittsburgh.
“This has been an exciting and popular choice for middle school students to adults wanting to sing in a semi-professional group in the Pittsburgh area,” said Perrotte.
Making Music at Any Age
Whether young or old, it is never the wrong time to try a musical instrument or to take vocal lessons. Both Wittmer and Perrotte said that they cater to individual needs and are creative in coaxing even the most shy individuals into giving music a fair shake.
“If you are an adult who hesitates taking lessons or who is currently performing and would like some professional help, call us and we will work out a program that is fun and geared toward your abilities and objectives,” said Perrotte. “We have had so many adults say that now that their children are grown, it is their time to have some fun.”
Wittmer added that music can be a welcome reprieve to all of the challenges facing the world today. “If you’re not into music in some way, shape, or form, you’re missing out on a great healing power,” he said. “Music is a great motivator and is truly a rewarding endeavor that brings pure enjoyment. We can all use a smile on our faces these days. Music can make that happen.”