Shu Mei Jesse Yap
Shu Mei is a violinist based in Singapore, as well as founder of the Mandeville Conservatory of Music, which offers music education to people of all ages.
Here in Singapore, lockdown came in April. My main job is teaching; I run a music school, so of course we were ordered to close at extremely short notice. It was a scramble to get all the equipment together to make online teaching possible, and many of our teachers aren’t confident with technology, so had to find their way around it very quickly. Some decided just to take a break rather than teach online, originally thinking it would only be for a few weeks, and many students unfortunately suspended their lessons. This was mainly in the younger age groups – the classes we run for young children are designed to encourage them to open up and be sociable using music, and that just wasn’t possible to do online.
I did find many positives over the three months of lockdown. Students who were often too shy to get up and play in classes were able to work comfortably in their own homes. I never usually get to see them play, but got to see all of the videos they were sending in for their lessons. And where online lessons aren’t ideal for working on detail and nuance, they were great for building repertoire, and we found our students were learning lots of music very quickly. There were also much less distractions for them – they didn’t have to travel, didn’t have to attend school activities – they were able to dedicate much more time to their own practice.
All of our concerts went online. This actually made life easier – everyone could attend, there were no worries about timing or audience capacity. It also meant that young children could watch in their own space – whether they were able to focus or not didn’t matter, they got to experience the concerts and see the older students perform. It was also great for the older students to remember where they started, it worked out extremely well.
We have a string quartet and chamber orchestra linked to the school, and we had to find ways of making performance happen for them. Using software to cut out the lag from the internet, we managed to play together remotely, using headphones. Our quartet did a live concert for our sponsors, and the chamber orchestra managed to play together, divided into smaller groups and spread across several rooms.
Exams aren’t able to happen in person yet, and we don’t have any indication of when that might be possible. We hold ABRSM and Trinity exams here, and these are currently being done by video submission. It cuts out the scales, sight reading, and aural tests, so many of our students are quite happy with this setup!
Luckily we were able to go back to face to face teaching in July, wearing masks and doing extra safety checks. As a teacher, online lessons required much more time and effort, and it’s just so much easier to work with students in person, especially the more advanced and the young beginners. We’re delighted that most students have returned – the classes for younger age groups are still difficult, but the majority are back up and running. We recently had our 25th anniversary as a school, but unfortunately we can’t have much of a celebration. Hopefully soon!
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