Sophie is an extroverted piano student who has found music lessons and life in general to be more challenging without in-person interaction. With her mom Sarah's help, Sophie discovered new ways to connect with other students, make new friends, and create meaningful performances and experiences online.
Georgia, Sophie’s piano teacher, took the time to speak with Sophie and Sarah about Sophie’s initiative, and how online education platforms can be used for significant connection and collaboration.
Georgia: Sophie, how old are you and how long have you been taking piano lessons?
Sophie: I'm 11 years old and I've been playing piano for six years, so I started when I was five with my mom and then I moved to you.
Georgia: What was the process of when you had to transition from in-person lessons to online lessons?
Sophie: Because of COVID I couldn't really see you, so I wouldn't see you every week in person. It's hard at home because there's a lot of background noises, because the piano’s right next to the kitchen.
But I'm really glad that we could still have Zoom.
Georgia: Sarah, what would you say was the most challenging thing about transitioning to online lessons?
Sarah: I think for Sophie in particular it was hard for her not to get out of the house and be with people and to work on the Friendship Concerts. It's probably her favorite thing, is working with people, and so we've had a couple frustrating moments with trying to put duets together.
But we learned from the process. There was a lot of back and forth, you know, there’s just a lag time. So we've learned, since we've been doing this for a while now, how to keep it simple. And do things like how you suggested. Like let's just make one recording that they both can play together with, so it's steady, and then we can work from there.
And then there's some video editing that has to go into it as well that helps, that makes us feel like, “Okay, this isn't too terrible.” [laughs] “It’s not too hard, it came together at the end.”
I think you have your similar challenges when you're in person too. I think that's one of the most challenging things about being a musician is playing in an ensemble, and when they get a little bit older it's so good for them. It's good for them to be challenged… You have to use your ears more, and you have to adapt, and you have to be flexible, and I think those are all things that we've learned a lot about this year.
Georgia: Well it's so funny, I've been working on a duet for the Faculty Concert that's coming up, and I'm playing the duet with myself, and even that is hard [laughs]. I go to the video editing and I think, “Okay, I played with the metronome for the first video, I played with myself for the second video,” and when I get to the editing software it doesn't line up! It’s like, "What happened?"
Sarah: Yeah. You have to let go of some perfectionist tendencies also and be okay with it, and say, “Okay, you know we did the best we could,” and I think people understand. It's not meant to be a perfect production, it's just, you know it's a new learning experience, so I think that's good for the kids overall.
"Music I think is one thing that has really flourished a lot since our kids have been home."
Georgia: Sophie, what new technologies and technical skills do you feel like you've learned by doing online lessons?
Sophie: I had to pay attention a little bit more and listen, because I wasn't right next to you. And I also had to learn how to put all my duets and stuff together.
Georgia: Yeah! What was your motivation to learn all those new skills?
Sophie: I think it's really cool-- well especially with the duets, where I get to meet new friends that I haven't met before. And practice with them.
Georgia: Yes, well I've been super grateful to you in particular with the way you responded to my Flipgrid. And the way that you not only posted so many videos of yourself playing songs, but you've also been just such a source of encouragement for my other students, like when they see comments from you, they talk about it all week, and when they see your videos. They'll even ask me sometimes, “Did Sophie make a new Flipgrid this week?”
So that's been a really neat, special community that I never would have imagined before COVID all started and shut us down in normal circumstances. I think in some ways, more of my piano students know you now than they did before.
Georgia: How have you shared your music online? What platforms have you used to share your music?
Sophie: I’ve used Flipgrid mostly, like where I get to share pieces and meet with your other students, and then the Flipgrid from Musicianship that we also get to do.
Georgia: That's good. It's helpful to still be able to reach out and feel like other people exist beyond our home walls.
Georgia: Do you have any tips for other people who might be new to using Flipgrid?
Sophie: Well if you're using Flipgrid, then you should try to focus on what your goal is, so playing your piece. Because sometimes I focus too much on all the effects and stuff.
Georgia: All the effects are so cool though. I've actually watched your videos and some of my other student videos and I've honestly learned so much from you guys, because I feel like you are more inclined to just explore and investigate all the filters.
Georgia: Could you share a story about how you used Flipgrid to interact and stay in touch with another student and play duets?
Sophie: With Malka, since we're doing the Friendship Concert together and we're playing pieces, we've never really seen each other in person, but you introduced us to each other, and I got her phone number so we could stay in touch and every Friday or so we get together and talk about piano or just life.
Georgia: That's so cool. It's like this year has been really fun in that regard for me too, because I have these students, like you and Malka would be a great example. For years, I’ve thought you two guys should get together, and there's some way you needed to know each other, but your schools are completely different, you live on complete opposite sides of the city. And so it's been really neat to watch you guys get to know each other finally.
Georgia: Now last semester, when we did the Friendship Concert, you worked so hard with a violinist to get that [recorded]. Can you describe some of the things that you guys did over Flipgrid to stay in touch and to make that concert piece come together?
Sophie: Yeah, we gave each other a lot of advice, like just recorded some short videos on Flipgrid. And yeah, I knew her a little bit from dance, but I got to know her better with doing that piece together.
Georgia: Well that was really cool. And then, you even edited that video together right?
Georgia: I think that's amazing!
Sophie: Yeah, it was a little bit challenging since there was two different instruments and we were at kind of different levels, but we put it together and it sounded really good.
Georgia: Yeah, it absolutely sounded great.
Sophie: We couldn't wait to put it together because we wanted to hear what it sounded like.
Georgia: Yeah. In a way the Friendship Concert this year-- it's like a gift because so many people have never heard their two parts come together as one whole. I almost more eagerly await the Friendship Concert, because even I haven't heard the two pieces put together until the concert actually airs.
Georgia: Why do you enjoy playing and sharing music with other people?
Sophie: I think it's fun to give suggestions for other people and receive feedback, and showing your really good pieces off to other friends and stuff.
One example that I wanted to tell is that I've had like one or two pieces that I've heard people play on your Flipgrid that I really wanted to play, and I play them now. So yeah, I got some really good pieces from them.
Georgia: Yeah, I always find it so amazing when you come to your lesson and you're like, “Hey, I heard Kent playing “Take Five,” can I learn that? That was great!”
It's just such a neat thing. I think that we like our music better when we care about the music we're making, and feel more motivated to work harder when we like what we're playing. And so that's always been this thing for me as a teacher, is to find the right pieces.
But when someone like you goes out to Flipgrid and just listens to everybody, and then you come to me with those ideas, it's awesome. I love it.
Georgia: Why do you think music is such a good tool to connect and collaborate with others?
Sophie: One time we did this thing called Postcards for Seniors where we all recorded a few pieces and then Orpheus sent them to a home for seniors. I knew they would really enjoy it.
Georgia: Yeah, that's so neat. I think just being able to watch the videos anytime anywhere is just such a neat thing. I think that has so much flexibility.
Georgia: Sarah, does Sophie share her music with you and your family?
Sarah: Music is always in our family, so my husband and I both play music and we have a music room and our house is always filled with music.
Sophie does a really good job sharing her music. At home, I mean music I think is one thing that has really flourished a lot since our kids have been home. And it's been a huge benefit just having the time and capacity and margin to play, to sit at the piano and play. So there's people hopping on and off and on and off.
I feel like the kids go up to the piano and play all the time, like when they're not asked to just because they like what they're playing, and they've been playing duets together and they call each other to “Come over to the piano and play with me.”
Georgia: I think that's so cool. That's just what music should be, is family hanging out around the piano and playing together, and I think historically that's what pianos were. So I love that that's a part of your modern family too.
Georgia: Sophie, I know you have two brothers who also play the piano. Have you had a chance to collaborate with them more, since you guys have all been at home?
Sophie: Yeah, we did a lot of mixes or duets and trios, and also we included me, Jeremy, Gabe, and Susie on a recording and it was fun to be able to play on the same piano.
Georgia: Yes, definitely.
Sarah: I mean it takes time to get there though. You know, when you have really young kids there's a lot more hand holding and a lot more discipline that has to go into making sure it becomes a daily part of your routine.
But as they're older, we've got some teens and preteens in the house now and so, for their birthday they'll get a-- like we gave Gabe a cajón, and he doesn't play a percussion instrument, but it was so fun because everybody wanted to learn how to play it. So it's neat to just have things around, opportunities for them to try something new. And since we have the time at home, it's neat for them to be able to just sort of play off each other and enjoy music together.
"Orpheus having so many online events provides such a wonderful platform for people to share with each other and helps with that goal setting."
Georgia: Sarah, how have you seen Sophie's musical ability specifically develop over time?
Sarah: Well she loves having lessons with you, first of all.
Georgia: Aw, thank you.
Sarah: A big part of it is you've been a good friend to her, as well as a teacher, and she just enjoys seeing you and so that's been a huge blessing.
I think being home too, just because she is such a people person, she wants to connect with people. She's had the challenge of setting some goals for herself like, “What can I accomplish in this next week?” or “How long will it take me?” Because we've learned, if we spend too much time just playing, playing, playing, and we don't really know where it's going, then we'll end up playing the same piece for eight weeks and it gets kind of tiring, and then it's hard to persevere through those things.
So I think for her she's done better when she's found pieces she really enjoys, and then sets little goals for herself and says, “Let's accomplish this, let's finish this, and let's start a new piece in two weeks.” I think that's helped a little bit.
Georgia: Yeah definitely, and I think Orpheus having so many online events provides such a wonderful platform for people to share with each other and helps with that goal setting. It's like, “Well here comes Postcards for Seniors, let's do that. Oh, here comes Friendship Concert, let's do that.”
Sarah: Even just having a performance class, or just saying, “Your lesson is coming up, let's see if you can learn all the notes and rhythms up to this page for Tuesday.” Even little goals like that have been helpful.
Georgia: Being that connecting and collaborating with other musicians is so important to Sophie, when did you see this start to develop in her musical education?
Sarah: This girl takes the initiative, so she bugs me a lot if I'm not on top of things like, “Mom, did you text this person's mom? Mom, did you call her? Can we set up a time?” And so that helps. And I can tell what she's excited about, I can tell that she likes to work with people, she likes people a lot.
I think Sophie's at the age where she's been able to take some independence with accomplishing a goal and accomplishing a piece with somebody, and she's become pretty proficient with Flipgrid and things like that. That's been helpful because she helps her younger brother and sister a lot with Flipgrid also, and so I say, “Sophie, go!” [laughs] “Jeremy’s got to turn something in, so can you go help him take a video?”
Georgia: Would you have any advice that you would give for other parents in creating or finding safe social opportunities online?
Sarah: Everyone's got a different perspective on what's safe out there I guess, and so it's always best just to connect with the parents first and see how involved they want to be. I mean as parents we just know, “Okay our kids, in our minds, they have this goal. They need to accomplish this piece.” Or, “We've been told that they need to perform this together, so how are we going to do it?”
It's easy to put two kids on a device and say, “Go at it!” and then nothing really happens, or it's hard, and it can get really frustrating. And so I had to step in and just help a little bit, and help with the recording, and tell her what to communicate with the friend and say, “Let's just work on this part.” Or “Let's see if we can play along to this same recording and then we'll put it together for you.”
Of course, it just depends on how old the kids are and how much they want to do.
"Give comments and advice to your partner, and don't be afraid to receive some yourself, or for your friend to correct you."
Georgia: Sophie, you have shown so much initiative in sharing and meeting up with other students. What advice would you give to a student who maybe wants to do that, but hasn’t figured out quite how yet?
Sophie: To give comments and advice to your partner, and don't be afraid to receive some yourself, or for your friend to correct you.
Georgia: Yeah, that is so important. I know, like when I was younger, I had it in my mind that anytime anybody told me any kind of constructive criticism I would take it really personally and be like, “Oh no, they think I'm not good.” So I love that you shared that advice about hearing other people's responses and feedback as an encouragement and a way to grow.
Georgia: Sarah, what strategies would you say you've learned from this period of online lessons that maybe you'll take with you and keep doing even when life goes back to in person again?
Sarah: I think first of all, probably going back to the goal setting. I think when all of the normal activities start pouring in it's going to feel like we can't do everything again. So I’ve enjoyed the restful period where we don't— I'm not in my van all day, dropping kids off and picking them up. And we actually have time to practice.
So it's just being able to plan ahead and set some goals. I mean it's just like with anything, you know it could be a sport, it could be your dance, or whatever it is...
Music is something that’s always going to be a life lesson sort of thing. I don't know if it's something they'll carry with them forever, take lessons forever, that's less important to me. It's more that whatever avenue they're learning, just to work hard and set some goals, and then being able to accomplish them and feel good about it.
"Music is something that’s always going to be a life lesson sort of thing."
Sarah: It's sort of something you have to grow into… they're getting used to like being on camera, for example. Like this is not really a big deal for Sophie to be on camera because she's had to do it all year long with her school and then her teachers.
You know you kind of take what you're given. It's not the best situation this year, it's been tough for everybody in some ways, but they've just learned to adapt and try something new and figure out how to go along the way, and kind of make lemonade out of the lemons.
Georgia: Well thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to do this interview and to just kind of chat.
Sarah: Kudos to you for making it through a really tough period, and I know there's gonna be some more challenges ahead, but yeah you've done a really good job teaching these kids even though you're limited in what you can see and hear, but you've kept her motivated so that's good.
Georgia: Yay! Excellent. [laughs]