March 13, 2020 is a date few of us will ever forget. Who could have predicted, at the beginning of the new year, the scope of the tragedy that has befallen our world?
On March 12, 2020, I flew from Logan Airport to Atlanta to visit my sister Anita. I had purchased tickets for us to attend the Atlanta Opera’s production of “Porgy and Bess” on the 13th. I was really looking forward to time with my sis and also to hear my colleague Morris Robinson sing the role of Porgy.
Earlier that week, the warnings about the Corona virus were getting more dire on the national news (CNN, NPR, etc.) Already, the flight attendants were wearing masks. That in itself was enough to send a shiver of dread and fear through my body. Once I landed in Atlanta, I called the Atlanta Opera offices to ask if the Friday performance of “Porgy and Bess” was still on. I was told that yes, we will be performing.
On Friday, I got all gussied up for the opera, and right before Nita and I were leaving for “dinner and a show,” I checked the Atlanta Opera website and learned that all performances of the opera had been cancelled. Yup – just like that. The dread factor immediately shot up to my brain.
The rest of that weekend was pretty unnerving, as the news got worse and worse. I returned to New Hampshire on Sunday, March 15 (via Logan – more masked flight attendants, and by then they were wearing rubber gloves as they served the passengers). As I was driving home from the Concord Park and Ride lot, NH’s Governor Sununu was already holding a press conference about closing the schools starting the next day. I just couldn’t believe it.
Starting the week of March 16, I felt compelled to more or less close the studio to in-person lessons. To put things in perspective, teaching voice remotely does not compare to the sorrow of what the world has endured for the past year. But this is my world and it was falling apart.
That said, my voice students are beloved and treasured – the prospect of not having face-to-face interaction with them – hearing their glorious voices and enjoying their progress as a result of my teaching – was a personal tragedy. I am more grateful than I can express to so many who helped me navigate setting up a Zoom account (er, “zoom” is a word I previously associated with those old Road-Runner cartoons).
The mother of my sweet high school student Rae Pizzi, Meredith, spent many hours helping me to set up a Zoom account and offered suggestions about acoustics and how to navigate remote learning. My voice student and close friend Janet Wittenberg, who is an internet whiz, has been helpful throughout this period with advice and suggestions to enhance my ability to teach remotely.
For most of the summer of 2020, I taught voice remotely, as did so many millions of us, and also took remote voice lessons with my beloved teacher Jack LiVigni. One of the great pleasures of teaching voice is being able to accompany my students on the piano. I was a double major in undergrad – voice and piano – and have been playing the piano every day of my life since I was about 5 years old – seriously!
Sadly, the 2-3 second delay on Zoom prohibits accompanying my students. As well, they cannot hear the piano when they are singing. So, like millions of us, we have relied either on YouTube accompaniment links, or I have recorded accompaniments and sent to my students to practice with.
The world of remote teaching has been a roller-coaster. In July I was able to move to a space twice the size of my previous studio in the same building where I’ve been teaching voice for over 20 years. This newer space provided 10+ feet between singer and piano, and I have been able to incorporate more safety protocols for in-person teaching. Sadly, with the variants now making the news, I am mostly back to remote teaching.
I cannot express the depth of my gratitude to Merdith and Janet, and to my students who have stuck with me during this trying time and continued to have weekly lessons, keep up their practicing, and coming back for weekly Zoom lessons. This has been the new normal for a year now. I am hopeful that, with the vaccines and now a grown-up in the White House, things will start to look up for the performing arts.
I grieve for the millions of performing artists all over the world who have lost so much joy in live performing, not to mention income. This will not last forever…we will return to our art and our social interaction.