A New Virtual World for PMP with Elizabeth Mouthrop, Director of Paterson Music Project
Amid the growing concerns surrounding the COVID 19 pandemic, the Paterson Music Project (PMP) suspended all regularly scheduled classes on Monday, March 16 for what was expected to be a two-week departure from the norm. Having the forethought to realize that the possibility of social distancing extending beyond a fortnight was not remote, the PMP administrative staff jumped into action: of Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts’ three programs, PMP was the first to establish a robust schedule of online learning for its students using the video conferencing platform Zoom. Within the first week of quarantine, PMP students had access to group learning as well as individual instructional time with teaching artists, hardly missing a beat in their music education. PMP Director Elizabeth Moulthrop gave us some insights into their new learning paradigm:
Q: How are things different now that everyone is in quarantine? Are you teaching PMP students via Zoom and describe that for us.
A: PMP has continued virtual group and private lessons from the first moment of the pandemic shutdown. We are holding group hang-outs, which are so important for our students to maintain social contact with each other. The social connection is a huge part of the El Sistema model of teaching, which our program follows. These virtual events include dance parties, surveys on how the students are experiencing and coping with the pandemic, interactive games, and raffles with gift card giveaways. We are also planning some virtual music events for our student families. Music is healing, and we hear every day from parents and students alike how much joy it brings into their lives, even during the COVID 19 pandemic—especially during the pandemic.
Q: How many classes are continuing via Zoom?
A: We are hosting over sixty 40-minute sessions per week.
Q: What ages and subjects are these group classes?
A: Our classes reach students in Grades 2-9 and include violin, viola, cello, double bass, percussion, brass, woodwinds, and a drum circle, as well as private lessons. We’ve even had siblings of PMP students join some of our online classes who are not normally part of our program—we encourage the entire family to get involved and we welcome their participation!
Q: How does an online class differ from what your students would do in person?
A: The biggest difference we have found is that in an online class, we are not able to play together at the same time due to the internet lag, or latency. In our Zoom group classes, the students sometimes take turns playing alone, or they mute themselves and play together. It has been a fun opportunity to explore music apps and games, which we might not include in a traditional classroom setting. Teachers are able to share their screen and have students play games together in real time. And clearly the students enjoy and need this creative outlet—we had one second grade violin student log over 8 hours of PMP class time, two weeks in a row!
Q: How has the PMP community been coping with this challenging and often scary time?
A: Against some daunting odds—Paterson has the biggest outbreak of Covid-19 in Passaic County, and per capita emergency crews are responding to approximately the same number of calls from residents suffering with symptoms as in New York City—our students have remained dedicated and are doing an amazing job continuing to practice and learn from home! It’s uplifting for both the student families and our teaching artists to see each other on a regular weekly schedule, and we are making the best of this situation—that being said, we can’t wait until we are all back together in person.
Q: Any final thoughts as we complete our first month of quarantine?
A: I’d like to say thank you to all of the PMP staff for stepping up and thinking outside of the box during this unprecedented situation. I’d also like to thank our students and parents for their commitment to learning music even during a very difficult time. We miss them and hope to see them soon.
The Paterson Music Project (PMP) is a program of the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts that empowers children to achieve their full potential through the joyful pursuit of musical excellence. Inspired by the global El Sistema movement, PMP uses music education as a vehicle for social change in its home city of Paterson.
PMP provides intensive, tuition-free musical training to students throughout Paterson after school. Students study a primary instrument and participate in ensemble practice and instrumental sectionals. Students also study music theory, music history, aural training, and singing. Students perform frequently for the community. To learn more about the Paterson Music Project or how you can support music education in Paterson, visit www.PatersonMusicProject.org.