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Music teachers, performers keep the beat online amid coronavirus restrictions

  • Deb Steele joins in song with her neighbors on Hough Street in Lebanon, N.H., on Saturday, March 21, 2020. After the bells of the nearby Sacred Heart Parish struck the noon hour, residents of the street gathered at a safe distance to make music together. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Upper Valley Music Center Executive Director Ben Van Vliet controls the presentation of a streamed concert in Lebanon, N.H., Saturday, March 21, 2020. After playing a piece live on his violin Van Vliet set up pre-recorded performances by the center’s faculty. He hopes that the live concert that had to be postponed and serves as a fundraiser for tuition assistance, can be rescheduled later in the year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • On the day and time of the postponed Upper Valley Music Center’s faculty concert, Executive Director Ben Van Vliet livestreams pre-recorded performances from the center in Lebanon, N.H., Saturday, March 21, 2020. After a week of adaptation to the precautions against COVID-19, including closing the facility, Van Vliet expects all individual music lessons to continue online beginning Monday and is working on doing the same with group classes. “The connection through music is still possible,” he said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Helena Mielcarz, 11, her dad Dan and sister Sadie, 15, right, perform a tune during an outdoor musical gather for their neighbors on Hough Street as their mother Ann Sharfstein looks on at left in Lebanon, N.H., Saturday, March 21, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Candice Salvas, holding her daughter Lillian, 4 months, and her son Blake, 2, applaud the the Mielcarz family who played “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” at Blake’s request during a neighborhood sing along on Hough Street in Lebanon, N.H., Saturday, March 21, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/24/2020 9:04:06 PM
Modified: 3/24/2020 9:31:58 PM

LEBANON — Among the many Upper Valley musicians who won’t be playing for audiences for a while, Lebanon pianist Elizabeth Borowsky is trying to look on the bright side of the coronavirus shutdown of cultural life as we once knew it.

For one thing, online technologies allow her to continue lessons with her 22 private students, ranging in age from 6 to young adults, from a safe distance.

“It’s never been my favorite form of interaction,” Borowsky said. “There’s no substitute for face-to-face. At the same time, it’s a great way for me to keep them motivated. They have to be more disciplined, more independent, working on it from home. A lot of the teenagers, especially, are normally so heavily scheduled with school and extracurricular activities that they are always fighting for practice time.

“They finally have time for self-care, self-improvement, time with their families.”

Meanwhile, the involuntary hiatus is providing time for Borowsky, as with many other area musicians, to embark on creative projects she’s longed to tackle.

“For the past 3½ years, I have been writing music for my students, dedicating one to each student for their birthday,” Borowsky said. “I now have nearly 80 pieces and am aiming to use this time to prepare them for publication.

“This seems to be the golden opportunity to move it forward.”

Hartford-native Americana musician Jes Raymond sees at best one or two silver linings for the home-based music enterprise she runs with husband Jakob Breitbach, including their “Here in the Valley” series of concerts, their touring string band the Blackberry Bushes and performances at weddings and other private events.

“We went from thinking we were going to have our best year yet to losing all of our income for the foreseeable future,” Raymond said during an exchange of emails. “We are turning our focus toward things we can do online. We are going to do some concerts livestream, and are offering lessons and workshops.

“My hope is that with the extra time at home, we can come out of this with an Upper Valley on fire to make music together again.”

For now, the Upper Valley Music Center is trying to at least keep a flame flickering through a variety of online efforts. Last weekend, the center broadcast videos of its 25 faculty members singing and playing instruments, ranging from piano and strings to winds, brass and percussion.

And this week, Executive Director Benjamin Van Vliet said Monday, “more than 350 students will be doing individual lessons.”

“The video lessons that I taught last week were so rewarding,” he said. “It has been really meaningful simply to say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ And then, for a brief time, things seem almost normal while we work on how to play the violin.”

Thetford pianist Matthew Wiencke also welcomes the continued interaction with his 20 students, especially in the wake of the recent cancellation of the annual spring concerts of the Thetford Chamber Singers, for whom he is accompanist. Whereas he used to teach on the two pianos at the First Congregational Church on Thetford Hill — which itself is now holding its Sunday services via Zoom — he now relies on Zoom, Google Hangouts or FaceTime.

“The video for most part is good, and the audio is decent,” Wiencke said. “The kids who are school-age really like it. They think it’s pretty cool.”

While some of the elder adults among his students find the technology more challenging, he added, “at least it allows you to continue to play piano, have it as part of your life.”

“It brightens your day,” he said. “It’s about reducing stress. Music is very uplifting, especially now.”

Through videos on Facebook, pianist Annemieke McLane is offering a boost to followers while sheltering in place at the house she shares with her husband, accordionist Jeremiah McLane, and their 6-year-old son.

“I’ve asked people what I should play for them, and they’ve come up with some great pieces, like (Beethoven’s) Fur Elise, which I never play for myself,” she said. “Playing for myself, I always love Bach. And I’ve always wanted to play more Ravel.”

When not tutoring their private students online, the McLanes are both “doing more arranging now and working on pieces of our own,” Annemieke McLane said.

And with hopes of seeing light at the end of the tunnel sooner rather than later, she’s preparing a children’s program for the Central Vermont Chamber Music Festival, still scheduled for mid-August at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph.

“It runs from Bach till now,” McLane said. “It’s called ‘Keys in a Time Machine.’ ”




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