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With coronavirus closures, local music schools move lessons online

Boulder-based organizations offer virtual open mics and discounted rates

Marnie Ward, an instructor at Parlando School of Musical Arts, leads a virtual open mic session from her home in March. In addition to offering online music lessons, the school is keeping folks engaged with virtual entertainment. (Travis LaBerge/ Courtesy photo)
Marnie Ward, an instructor at Parlando School of Musical Arts, leads a virtual open mic session from her home in March. In addition to offering online music lessons, the school is keeping folks engaged with virtual entertainment. (Travis LaBerge/ Courtesy photo)
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Last month, Parlando School of Musical Arts — an organization that employs 50 instructors and teaches around 700 students — had to temporarily stop operating out of the Dairy Arts Center. While its brick-and-mortar location is no longer open, virtual lessons, creativity, enthusiasm and community outreach continues to flourish.

From left, Maddi Stapp, Amina Gilbert and Jolie Gilbert perform during a production of “Xanadu” by Parlando School of Musical Arts in 2019. The school has temporarily closed its location at the Dairy Arts Center and is now offering music classes online. (Travis LaBerge/ Courtesy photo)

“These are unprecedented times and the process of moving to online lessons has been challenging, scary and inspirational all at the same time,” said Travis LaBerge, executive director and founder of Parlando School of Musical Arts. “On March 11, we let our faculty know that the pivot to online lessons was likely, and asked them to start preparing and to let the Parlando administrative team know what they needed for support.”

When Boulder Valley School District announced closures on March 12, LaBerge and staff jumped into action and made a range of lessons available online just days later.

LaBerge views the call to stay home as a chance for folks who have been toying with the idea of learning an instrument or taking vocal lessons to do so.

“With two kids at home myself, and both my wife and I working from home, it’s hard to find things for everyone to do that allow for creativity, connection to the outside world and just a way to try to feel sane,” LaBerge said. “We believe that Parlando’s online music lessons are a great way to bridge the social distance and we’ve introduced an online lesson starter package that lets you try six lessons online.”

In addition to offering lessons, Parlando has started to provide virtual open mics, sing-alongs and jam sessions for those looking to connect and perform from the comfort of their homes.

Travis LaBerge, founder and executive director of Parlando School of Musical Arts, teaches an online piano lesson from his home in March. (Travis LaBerge/ Courtesy photo)

“I’ve personally dropped off some digital keyboards onto front porches and Boulder Piano Gallery has made some great financing options available for people who need either digital or acoustic pianos,” LaBerge said. “We’re all in this together.”

With the orders of social distancing in place, LaBerge has seen a slight surge in people signing up for lessons.

“So far we’ve gotten a handful of new students — including some from Montana — which has led us to begin developing a plan to incorporate online lessons into our regular business model, once things reach whatever our new normal will look like,” LaBerge said. “We anticipate some people will want to keep lessons online for a while out of concern for safety. We expect that sheltering at home — hopefully for shorter periods of time — will become part of the new normal, and we want to be able to expand our student base outside of the Boulder Valley.”

From classical violin to operatic singing lessons, the array of options remains vast.

“Although it wasn’t our plan to offer all of these virtual options, at this point in time it’s what the situation demands of us,” LaBerge said. “It’s our opportunity to continue to serve our shared community in a meaningful way. It’s how we at Parlando support the arts — and, so far, the community is demonstrating its support of Parlando as well.”

Ravel LaBerge receives an online piano lesson from Parlando School of Musical Arts in March. (Travis LaBerge/ Courtesy photo)

Parlando prides itself on offering entertainment throughout the year, LaBerge said. The school’s productions of “Frozen Jr.” and “Chicago” have already been cast and will hopefully continue on their originally scheduled dates, but will likely need to be adjusted.

“The situation is obviously very fluid and changes seem to happen so quickly, so we will remain resilient and agile in an effort to meet our community’s desire to participate in the arts while keeping public health and student safety as our highest priorities,” LaBerge said.

Since opening in 2010, Harmony Music House has been a place where skilled bluegrassers come to pick and kids spend their summers mastering the ukulele. While the physical location, 2525 ½ Broadway St., is no longer filled with melody and rhythm, ear-catching notes and chord changes continue on the web.

“Currently, we all miss hearing the sounds of music coming from every corner of the house, but look forward to its return in the future,” said Robby Loeb, owner of Harmony Music House. “The decision to change to online lessons happened so quickly. We spent tireless hours making the transition happen. We started working on a Friday and by Monday we had transformed into a 100% online business.”

Since moving online on March 16, Harmony Music House has been teaching around 90 to 100 lessons weekly. There has been some student drop off, due to the postponement of eight group ensemble classes, Loeb said.

Robby Loeb, owner of Harmony Music House, gives an online guitar lesson from his home in Boulder while the physical location remains closed in response to coronavirus. (Robby Loeb/ Courtesy photo)

“Initially, the online lessons came with a bit of learning curve, but after ironing out the technical kinks and having weekly teacher collaboration meetings, we have really come up with some great new teaching methods that I believe are putting us in a forward position,” Loeb said.

Like LaBerge, Loeb said he sees this time of social distancing as an opportunity for individuals to explore the curiosity they may have when it comes to pursuing music.

“It’s a great time to learn a new instrument or take voice lessons,” Loeb said. “The new normal of social distancing leaves plenty of time for lessons, as well as time for practice. Having something to concentrate on is really important for our mental health and it’s a positive distraction. We are accepting new online students at a special introductory rate, as well as offering a sliding-scale rate for anyone who could use a discount right now.”

Harmony Music House will host its first virtual recital this spring.

“Sharing music with others is our passion and we will continue to do that in every way, shape and form,” Loeb said. “Our motto is, ‘Learn to play the music you love.’”

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