WALLINGFORD — Local music teachers performed a free concert downtown Saturday, drawing dozens of spectators who sat socially distanced in lawn chairs, on the grass, even on top of parked cars.
Rock House School of Music, 393 Center St., opened in Wallingford last June, expanding from its longtime West Haven location.
The concert was the latest in a series of Saturday shows by the school’s instructors. The performances started inside and were live streamed on Facebook.
When the weather turned warm, they moved outside to the large front porch of the house-turned-office building, entertaining passersby and motorists with riff-heavy rock and pop songs from the 1960s to the 1980s.
“It’s good with people walking by,” owner John McCarthy said. “At least they hear a little music. It brightens their day up a little bit.”
Heather Lea, a vocal instructor, was the one who began the live streamed performances.
The pandemic hit the professional music scene really hard, she said. Opportunities have dried up for playing live, which was a source of revenue but also camaraderie for musicians.
McCarthy and his wife, Cathy McCarthy, purchased the building in April 2019 and converted the former offices into multi-purpose studios for private music lessons.
The school offers lessons on a variety of instruments as well as singing for all ages, including an early childhood music program for ages 4 to 7 called Little Rockers. The school also serves as the office for the McCarthys' nonprofit organization, Teach Kids Music.
McCarthy said he’s seen a 50 percent decrease in the number of students during the pandemic, although students are beginning to trickle back in.
The instructors, who are independent contractors, all have stayed on although the number of students went down. Lea’s pool of students went from about 12 to five, she said.
The students who continued are learning via Skype.
“As soon as all this happened I said to my wife, ‘we’ve got to become the best at learning online now,’” McCarthy said.
He invested in extra tablets for the teachers, helping them set up for virtual learning in their houses or at the school studios.
Lea said she’s been retraining herself on the piano to accompany her vocal students.
“We’ve been problem-solving as it goes,” she said, adding that her students have been “very patient.”
“I think they just want to keep their connection with me and I want to keep my connection with them,” she said.
McCarthy has published more than 120 music instruction books and video programs. He drew on those skills to develop remote lessons.
He also researched other tips and tricks for virtual lessons, like finding that the best angle for learning piano is by aiming the camera straight down over the keys.
Compensating for the slight delay between participant in video streaming was another thing he had to work around, since it made it difficult for teachers and students to play together.
McCarthy said that he’s seen the strain the pandemic has put on his students. Many times at the start of a virtual lesson, the kids just want to talk for a little while, he said.
“A lot of people don’t address this, but the kids, it’s really tough for them,” he said. “They’re at a point in their lives when they're just finding out who they are, and interaction with kids is really important to them.”
Lea said she’s a certified life coach and works with many clients with anxiety, which helps her empathize with what her students are going through.
“When I teach … it’s very much about feelings,” she said.
Several students have even written songs about their feelings and experiences during the pandemic.