While Musicopia had to cancel its assemblies, classes and performances to comply with social distancing due to the coronavirus, the nonprofit organization has created online music instruction to keep students engaged remotely.
“On March 13, we canceled more than 800 Musicopia in-school programs,” said Denise Kinney, executive director of Musicopia. “The majority of our work is done in schools. Because of the school closures, we knew that a lot of students were going to need music in their lives and they weren’t going to be getting that.
“In an effort to maintain work opportunities for our Teaching Artists and provide education opportunities for our students, we decided to move significant amounts of programming to online instruction,” she added.
Since its inception in 1974, Musicopia’s mission has been to provide opportunities for children to experience, learn, perform and appreciate music. The program has helped thousands of children experience the benefits of first-hand exposure to the arts and is a recognized leader in rebuilding and revitalizing school music programs.
“As the closure of schools kept extending, it made us realize that this is the new reality,” said Leslie Malmed Macedo, program director of Musicopia. “A lot of the programs started adapting. We started offering a lot of different channels through which we can offer programming.
“We have Zoom meetings that are scheduled during a specific time of day where the teachers are meeting live with students. We also created YouTube videos, which allows schools to be able to program the class whenever it works for the student or the school day.
“A lot of our programs have transitioned to receiving video lessons on YouTube that they can plug in wherever they want,” she added. “One of the challenges has been the programs where teachers would be teaching an instrument. A lot of the students don’t have their instrument, so we had to adapt for that as well.”
One of the first after-school programs to go online was Musicopia’s String Orchestra (MSO). Established in 2005, MSO serves students throughout the greater Philadelphia region with three levels of ensemble: MSO, Musicopia Young String Players and the Musicopia Chamber Orchestra. Many of the students in MSO learned to play their instruments in school.
Since the closure of schools in March, MSO missed no rehearsals and the program was able to move seamlessly to Zoom coaching with approximately 20 different break-out sections every Tuesday afternoon.
“We have about 80 students right now in the orchestra that rehearses every Tuesday,” said Talia Fisher, manager of MSO. “Our last in-person rehearsal was on March 10. On March 17, we were already online. From our very first online [rehearsal] until today, we’ve had about 90% of participation each week. We’ve had all our students except for eight or nine participating in our online rehearsal each week.”
Musicopia started its Drumlines after-school program in 2005. The award-winning percussion program is geared toward third- to 12th-graders of all skill levels. The program currently has eight drumlines.
“The first week of school closing we did have a few sites that actually started online lessons right away,” said Kate Lombardi, Musicopia drumline manager and managing director of Dancing Classrooms Philly.
“With some sites, a few of our schools didn’t miss any rehearsals. However, for other schools it did take an extra week to get everything coordinated. There are six schools that were able to start the online lessons and that’s an average of 8-10 coaches each week because the lessons are set up by sections.
“The sections are separated by their specific focus and those lessons are happening for the drumline five days a week for an average of 4-5 hours of rehearsal a day,” she added. “Each group will probably have an hour of rehearsals four or five days out of the week.”
In 2012, Dancing Classrooms Philly (DCP) formed a partnership with Musicopia to provide both organizations with a more efficient infrastructure while advancing their missions and community impact.
Originally launched in 2007, DCP is a licensed ballroom dancing program for Philadelphia schoolchildren. The program had to cancel 900 in-class sessions due to COVID-19.
“While we weren’t able to start the live lessons right away with DCP, the teaching artists did start submitting separate clips of different dance-related activities,” Lombardi said. “The teaching artists and our director of community engagement put videos together that we could send to schools and also share with the School District of Philadelphia.
“The videos help students have movement through dance-related activities. We did a few different montage videos,” she added. “We also started doing Facebook Live sessions every day at 11:45 a.m. where we do 10-15 minutes of stretching. This helps the students with a movement break that they may need during the day.”