To Skype Or Not To Skype

There are germaphobes, agoraphobes, hydrophobes and there are technophobes, and that is me. You can throw in arachnophobia as when one of my students was headed to Spain for a year and asked me to teach her via Skype I immediately said “no.” Then the begging began at each lesson and I could only take so much.

It involved me purchasing a laptop computer that was capable of Skype and a bit of bartering car privileges with our son, Ethan, to figure out how to make it work before I was ready.

I was cynical that it would be possible, let alone successful. I wasn't teaching someone to paint, which you might (I wouldn't but...) be able to do without good sound production, I was teaching them to play an instrument!

The computer “rang” for me and I answered with a video response and there was Chris, just as she was the week before, only on a screen. We sat down for our lesson, across from each other both in terms of position to computers and placement on the planet. The first hurdle is to stop looking at yourself. There you are, big as life, with all of your hair challenges. Horse blinders are helpful.

I always begin my lessons with scales and so we began. Up she went for four octaves and down she slid on the other side. I could hear each note distinctly. And I could easily hear, much to her dismay, if her pitch needed adjusting.

On we pressed to etudes. If I had something to show her, I would hold it up to my little camera and she could see what point I was trying to make. We began to take notes in tandem in our notebooks. One that she would keep for herself and the other I would keep here so that I could refer to it the following week. I would jot comments and ideas and, as when she was here in person, little jokes.

When we finished the hour lesson we both felt wonderful about what we had accomplished and the bonus was that she could “carry” me around the new house in Spain! After we had hung up I would send her an email transcribing what I had written in the notebook here. It gave her assignments to work on and enabled her to read my thoughts and ideas as she went through everything. Email allowed her to ask questions and, if a problem arose, I would appropriately primp and turn on the screen.

Our Skype lessons continued for the year that she and her husband remained in Spain. When she returned to “normal” lessons, there was no question that she had progressed. I was sold.

I have several Skype students now from various parts of the country. I have taken one student, Sherrie, from never reading music to working on her first Sonata. We have recitals with Paul as her audience (no snacks being the down side of this arrangement) and I snail-mail her any prizes she might collect from my infamous quizzes. We are a team as sure as I am with anyone who physically sits beside me. We laugh, we work through her struggles and we trust each other, as a team does.

I should be more amazed that this works than I am, but music always finds a way to break all barriers and I, as ever, remain grateful.