Two Students during a record lessonMarch 2020 arrived with a gasp. Riding high on a successful season of student holiday concerts and followed by a thrilling performance by the LA Opera for 1,500 fourth and fifth graders in January, Grand Vision Foundation’s education department, Meet the Music (MTM), was preparing to round off what promised to be a remarkably impactful school year. Then, like a bolt from the blue, schools and offices shuttered and it seemed that our mission of ensuring equitable, outstanding music education for all had met an insurmountable obstacle. After nearly a decade of honing our in-person course offerings, this news came as quite a shock.

In such an atmosphere of uncertainty, how would we gauge the shifting needs of students, their parents, as well as our school and community partners? The solution was to invest in the same spirit of collaboration that has been a trademark of MTM since its beginning: by pooling ideas and gathering data from school administrators, classroom teachers, and the greater arts education community, MTM successfully pivoted from in-school to online programming and did so in a matter of weeks.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, MTM delivered a complete 12 weeks of our innovative Roots of Music Program (RoMP) to fourth graders at four partner schools during fall 2019, and eight of twelve weeks at four additional partner schools in spring 2020. RoMP features an integrated curriculum of musical fundamentals, cultural context and history, as well as performance skills, with each semester-long unit consisting of three interactive world music concerts and six in-school lessons led by Teaching Artist and MTM Coordinator Gisselle Ruiz.

In response to this programming interruption, MTM staff produced and distributed the following distance learning materials to classroom teachers: three video lessons, one concert video composed of live concert excerpts, and four “Exit Ticket” surveys—online forms featuring focus questions that encourage students to connect new information with previous knowledge. Each of these distance learning materials contained the same content as our in-person offerings with some significant additions: in order to simulate an in-person learning experience, we included visual aids and question-and-answer sections to accommodate different learning styles and sustain students’ focus.

Similarly, prior to the shutdown, MTM delivered 21 of 24 weeks of our year-long fifth-grade curriculum–a music literacy and instrumental performance course called Recorders in Schools–to eight partner schools. After consulting with our partners, Grand Vision staff and teaching artists produced and distributed distance learning materials including 16 video lessons customized for each school and three “Play Along with Teacher” video recitals.

Recorder video lessons simulated face-to-face learning through the addition of focus questions, graphic and textual displays, and review portions that connect each lesson to previous ones. The “Play Along with Teacher” video recitals featured simulated performances by the teaching artist of all songs learned throughout the year. By playing through the entire recital repertoire with their teaching artist, students modeled critical performance practice skills such as proper posture, breathing, strategies for recovering from mistakes, and acknowledging the audience with a bow.

The feedback from teachers and students has been consistently positive. One fifth-grade teacher remarked, “I really liked the online videos that were posted for the students to follow once a week. I was able to send that out to my students and it offered a little bit of normalcy in their world of change due to COVID.” A fourth-grade teacher observed, “One of my students was very reluctant to try online learning, but he finally decided to join us for our Zoom lessons where I shared the ROMP lessons and concerts. He said it was just like being at the concert with his class.”

For one fourth-grade student, video lessons marked the highlight of her spring semester. She explained, “My favorite thing in RoMP lessons was online because we can do it whenever we want at any time. You are always on it and playing on it all day. My favorite video was the last one because my grandma was dancing when the song ‘La Bamba’ was on. Even my great grandma too. Did you know when my great-grandma was a teenager that song came out? So that’s why I liked RoMP online.” These testimonials point to the importance of these online learning materials not only as an alternative to in-person classes during the time of COVID-19, but as a robust, integral feature of primary education in the years to come. As such, these videos help establish for students new ways of interacting with teachers and course material, utilizing technology, and including their family in at-home learning experiences.

Despite the many challenges that the COVID-19 shutdown has placed on students, families, and educators alike, this same crisis represents a watershed moment for MTM. Rather than a short-term response to a momentary crisis, the work of adapting our curricula online has refined our approaches, pushed us to new creative plateaus, and strengthened our partnerships. This new, flexible toolkit will help us reach more students in more schools and respond deftly to circumstances both familiar and unforeseen. We have kept our commitment to our partner schools and in doing so, provided not only music education, but a touchstone of normalcy in the disrupted lives of our students.

This accomplishment simply would not have been possible without the generous support and thoughtful stewardship of Meet the Music’s major funders, including: the California Arts Council, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Crail-Johnson Foundation, the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund, The Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, U.S. Bank Foundation, and the office of LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn. We are grateful to all of you for giving us the resources necessary to realize our grand vision.