Together While Apart: Maintaining Community in the Time of COVID

By Susan Wooltorton, The National Capital Suzuki School of Music

It’s been just over fifteen months since our flip to virtual learning. Our fearless Artistic Director, Keite Gularte, has led our school into the virtual world by unleashing her creativity and developing her video editing skills; she deserves an Oscar for video production. We are also grateful to our dedicated faculty and our collaborative pianist who have all worked tirelessly to give our students the best year possible in this temporary online world.

Our typical school year involves private lessons, group classes, a faculty benefit concert, recitals, schoolwide play-in, ensemble concerts, a family and friends concert, and a final end-of-school-year celebration concert called Viva Suzuki where all our students perform together.

Carol Deaville, violin and viola faculty, shows us her online teaching set up
Carol Deaville, violin and viola faculty, shows us her online teaching set up

Our teachers, like teachers all across the country, pivoted to online learning and were able to provide our students with meaningful music education in their private and group classes.

Thanks to our AD’s dedication and willingness to learn new skills, as well as to upgrade her computer systems, we were able to provide the majority of our regular events in an online format and maintain a feeling of being together while apart, which has been so important to our school community. This year we presented two sets of recitals, our annual faculty benefit concert, our family and friends concert, and our end-of-year celebration, Viva Suzuki, all online. This involved students recording themselves playing their pieces, parents sending the recordings to us, our collaborative pianist Liko Yamane recording herself playing along with the students’ recordings, the AD taking the students’ parts and Liko’s parts and merging them into one video for each piece, and final video production to create the complete event. Sometimes there was one student performing with Liko, often five to ten students, and in the case of our Viva Suzuki grand finale, dozens of students and faculty performing together. A monumental but rewarding task indeed to put these events together! Every Viva Suzuki concert has as its grand finale a full-school performance of Twinkle, from youngest to oldest student, and this Finale became a powerful symbol of maintaining our sense of community while apart.

Keite Gularte, Artistic Director, working on compiling individual tracks into one ensemble piece
Keite Gularte, Artistic Director, working on compiling individual tracks into one ensemble piece

Last year’s Viva Suzuki was presented when COVID was new and we were still getting used to the new reality of lockdowns and virtual learning. We dedicated its finale to the essential workers “keeping the lights on” in our hospitals and communities. A year later, we continue to be grateful to our essential workers for their bravery and dedication.

This year’s Viva Suzuki was a celebration of music across the centuries and a chance to reflect on “Why Music?” Our finale was an extra special celebration of community across distance as international guests from music schools in Brazil, Mexico, and Haiti joined us for a truly International Twinkle finale.

In the end, despite extraordinary circumstances, this has been a year to remember – a special year of creativity and collaboration to keep our sense of community alive in the time of COVID.

Some of our SuzukiMusic kids performing together while we’re apart.
Some of our SuzukiMusic kids performing together while we’re apart.