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Valley Parents: Even in a pandemic, music brings people together

  • Clara, 5, and Caleb, 8, practice violin with their father, Jared Oren, in their home in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 30, 2021. The children both started playing and taking lessons at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon when they were four years old. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Clara Oren, 5, practices violin with her father and brother at their home in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 30, 2021. Clara has been taking two lessons a week remotely -- one a one-on-one lesson and the other in a group -- with the Upper Valley Music Center for about a year. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Caleb Oren, 8, listens to his father's instructions while practicing violin at their home in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 30, 2021. As a student at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, Caleb and his sister Clara are taking part in a challenge to practice for 100 straight days. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley Parents Correspondent
Published: 2/12/2021 10:57:50 AM
Modified: 2/12/2021 10:57:47 AM

LEBANON — Caleb Oren had to perform his violin recital over Zoom last year, but in doing so, the West Lebanon 8-year-old found he had a new — and bigger — audience.

“We were able to have family and friends from all over the county attend, and most wouldn’t have been able to come in person,” Caleb’s mother, Sonia Oren, wrote in an email. He also performed all 17 songs in his first Suzuki book. “So that was very special for our family.”

Caleb and his sister, Clara, 5, both take Suzuki violin classes through the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon. This past year, lessons have gone virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Caleb has been taking lessons for five years now, while Clara is in her second year. Each week they take a small group class in addition to a one-on-one lesson with an instructor over Zoom. They look forward to them each week, Oren said.

“It’s a very encouraging environment, and we think it is really beneficial for them to see others learning, just like they are,” Oren said. “In the past year especially, it has been nice to maintain a sense of normalcy. Though lessons and concerts are now virtual, they’ve been able to continue to learn and participate in many of their ‘normal’ music activities.”

Lessons are one of the many programs that the music center’s staff have adapted for virtual attendance. One of their biggest undertakings was the 12-day Holiday Music Festival in December.

They may have “bit off more than we needed to chew,” said Erin Smith, the music center’s assistant director, by putting together dozens of safe events for the festival. But, she added, “whatever the circumstances are, we’re going to find a way to provide music education.”

“Being able to do something free for the whole community, obviously it takes resources, but it’s great to be able to open the doors wide and get as many people participating and making music together as we can,” Smith said.

This flexibility has been a trademark of the center in the past year, adapting all of its regular in-person music education, both instrumental, vocal and theory, to online-only classes. It has been difficult, especially with how sound works on Zoom, the platform the center uses, but its offerings have remained steady.

Oren said she has been impressed with how the center has continued its programming and maintained a sense of community, and is doubly impressed with the instructors who have kept virtual learning engaging.

Prior to the pandemic, the afternoons and evenings were chromatic chaos at the center, with 3:30-7:30 p.m. the most coveted times. Now, however, virtual lessons have allowed both students and teachers the flexibility to fit in lessons and classes.

Online music learning has allowed the center to expand its student base as well. New registrations had been down relative to previous years, Smith said, until the center started waiving the fee usually associated with trying a new course.

In Making Music Together, the early childhood and family class, the Upper Valley Music Center has seen students from as far away as Germany and Switzerland. The center has also modified offerings like the Juneberry Choral program into the new Pocket Song Singers, which allows for people to gather and sing together safely and maintain that sense of purpose and connectivity that music provides.

“We believe music is important all the time,” Smith said, “and especially in times like this, music has the power to bring people together and to build a sense of community.”

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