From our occasional diarist, Anthea Kreston:
It can be a little difficult to read the subtleties of the person on the other side of the screen when you’re teaching on Skype. You can tell the basics – tired, excited – you may have just put your kids to sleep as the other person is having their first sip of morning coffee. But when I saw Y (not his real name) last week, his usual chatter, the buoyancy of a teenage boy – his flair and interest in sharing stories of our different cultures – these were all muted. He lives in a city of 12 million, quite far from the epicenter of WuHan that we hear so much about. After some time, after the Sevcik and the Sibelius – I asked how school was. Maybe it’s the narrow focus of the media – I try to cast a net – the Guardian and NYT are daily reads – but somehow it didn’t occur to me that Y, and his entire city was on lock-down.
The planned Chinese New Year trip to the ancestral mountain village had been cancelled. In fact, there had been no school, no violin lessons, no outside for 14 year old Y and his family for weeks. He said – “everyone is sick, we are afraid when we run out of food – someone has to go out there and get more….“. What he left unsaid showed clearly on his face. He was afraid – I noticed their small apartment looked different – not the tidy place I am used to seeing on the rectangle of my iPad. And Y hadn’t prepared his lesson in his usual diligence.
Y is one of a large handful of online students – some from remote areas who need some kind of input (I have one student from India), old students or new friends who want audition prep, things like this. When I met Y, and his Dad saw us work together, a new Skype relationship was born. I know how goofy he is, how he loves to show off with his breakneck technique and toss of his teenager hair. And so after we hung up, I couldn’t stop thinking about him and his family. The psychological toll, the isolation and fear.
And so, I devised a Coronavirus Daily Bootcamp Workout for Y, and proposed it to his father. 2 new videos every day into our Skype – a new devilishly hard Sevcik scale with metronome, and a new page of his new concerto. Every day. And very very good. They thought for 2 days about it, and now, I already have a veritable library of videos. I watch them, send comments, ask him to re-do – and add new assignments. We will continue this every day until he can go outside again. I can see him smile sometimes, now, as he careens through a new page of Symphony Espagnole or a Bach Fugue. He complains a little at the pace, but I say – “I need you to work hard, Y – I want you to come out of this as a new violinist“. We have a pretty big pile of emojis that land in our chat space, and he gives me a wink and a smile, and says – “ok I can do this!“
Musicians are a world-wide community. As I see countries closing down their live concerts, people being isolated, I wonder what we can do to help our friends as they struggle through dark thoughts and tragedy. I hope that Y will emerge from his home soon, with something new to share with his friends and teachers. Or, at least, with new tools to try to work through his own demons.