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Charleston's art, music, theater teachers continue on with virtual lessons during coronavirus

Teachers and students across the globe have had to adapt to virtual lessons as the coronavirus has spread and spurred social distancing in many communities. Among them are arts instructors in Charleston who specialize in music, theater, visual art, poetry and more. 

Those teachers have had to brainstorm new ways to instruct and inspire students from afar. It's no small task, and one that is evolving as the stay-at-home order stretches onward. Some have struggled, others have adapted easily, most have developed new techniques for these unusual circumstances. 

Scottie Frier has easily converted on online guitar lessons. Provided

Scottie Frier has been teaching guitar lessons in Charleston for six years and typically conducts 30 a week in his studio near Shem Creek. When it became clear that in-person lessons couldn't continue, most of his students and their parents embraced the idea of video lessons. 

He said most of his students are grateful for the virtual lessons and for the chance to escape their solitude. 

"I laughed at one of my middle school boys I teach the other day when, after we both logged onto a Zoom meeting, he said, 'I’m just so glad to see and talk to someone that’s not my parents,'" Frier said. 

Frier uses Zoom, Skype and FaceTime to conduct real-time lessons with his students. He said some platforms offer recording capabilities so students can rewatch later, which is a helpful tool. He has also texted pictures of proper hand placement and written out chord charts to share. 

"Video has been virtually the same, minus having to say, 'Index finger here, ring finger there' and so on," Frier shared. "I haven’t had any issues where I’ve found the virtual route more difficult at all."

He said some parents told him they plan on using virtual lessons in the future, when traveling or unavailable for an in-person meeting. Plus, when Frier is out of town to play gigs, he can keep his lessons going and his income flowing. 

"It's a great way to work with everyone's schedules for the future," Frier said.

Musician and guitar teacher Pierce Alexander has continued most of his lessons virtually. Provided

Guitar instructor Pierce Maheu of local band Pierce Alexander also has kept most of his students on board.

"I guess people probably need some form of entertainment to help handle all of the stress and also provide activities for their kids," he suggested. "I think people like having at least a couple things that keep that sense of normalcy during crazy times like these."

Students at the Allegro Charter School of Music seem to agree. 

"The shutdown has been pretty boring," 7th-grader Landin Tarpley said. "Our teachers have amazingly kept music alive, and we still practice daily."

Dominic Ciccarelli, an 11th-grader, said Zoom meetings have helped maintain a sense of "classroom." 

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Dan McCurry relies on music lessons for his income. Olivia Rae James/Provided

Piano teacher Dan McCurry has had a more challenging time adapting from in-person house-call lessons to video lessons for his 40 students. He said almost half have gone on temporary hiatus while the rest are trying their hand at digital lessons.

"The thing I like about my usual piano lessons is that I get to avoid technology and savor an acoustic instrument in an analog environment, so this is something I'm missing when moving to digital transmission," McCurry said. 

Piano lessons have been McCurry's bread and butter for 12 years, so it's been hard losing income during this time. 

Part of Charleston poet laureate Marcus Amaker's duties as artist-in-residence at the Gaillard Center include visiting classrooms and teaching poetry to students. During the coronavirus, that's been impossible to do. He said it's been hard converting his hands-on workshops to hands-off videos. 

Charleston's poet laureate Marcus Amaker has been teaching poetry lessons online. Provided

"So much of what I do in the classroom with poetry is physical," Amaker said. "We don't just sit at desks. We recite in front of the class, we do interactive exercises, we get out of our seats and look for objects to write about. Adjusting to online classes have been a challenge, because I'm relying on my video editing skills to take the place of those interactive elements."

Storytree Children's Theatre served around 1,800 Lowcountry students through in-school residencies, after-school programming and summer camps every year, until co-founder and local actress Teralyn Tanner Reiter closed Storytree in November to develop an online theater resource and tool for teachers, parents and students. The website,  theatreteacher.org, has proven to be very useful during coronavirus isolation.  

She's developed a free "At Home" feature: videos that explain theater exercises and games. But it's been hard for Reiter to adapt to the virtual platform. 

Teralyn Tanner Reiter (left) cofounded Storytree Children's Theatre in 2012. Provided

"I am a mover when I teach, and I engage through games and eye contact," she said. "I can typically check in with kids and make sure they're 'getting it,' but I don't get that when I'm teaching a game online."

Redux Contemporary Arts Center resident and workshop leader Anne Abueva doesn't usually teach art lessons, but she's offering art exercises on her Instagram (@anneabuevastudio) highlight reel called "Get Creative." 

Visual artist Anne Abueva has turned to virtual art lessons. Provided

"I know that expressing ourselves during stressful times is one of the best ways to cope, learn and grow from the experience, so I am happy to share that for free," Abueva shared. "I totally love seeing what people are making."

Abueva has been able to sell some art online even as she stays away from her art studio temporarily.

"I value the artwork hanging in my home more than ever right now," Abueva said. "It can change my mood, spark a conversation, conjure a memory of where and when I found it."

Making art also can help, she said. That's a lesson she wants to share in these trying times.

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