Virtual lessons 'lifesaver' for Toronto musicians, give normalcy to their students during COVID-19

Toronto housemates take their violin, singing and piano lessons online to maintain physical distancing

Posted: April 13, 2020

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A group of Toronto musicians are continuing to teach their students the art of music with virtual online lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic.  2:51

For Kailey Richards, and her fellow musician housemates, the ability to continue teaching their respective instruments through video conferencing has proven a lifesaver for their livelihoods — and normalcy for their students — during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I didn't even really think about it," said Richards. "I just sort of went into survival mode and was like we've got to do this."

The doctoral student at the University of Toronto normally teaches violin to more than 20 private students and a youth orchestra at the Kingsway Conservatory of Music in Etobicoke. 


She and two of her housemates, who teach piano and singing lessons, were partially inspired to take their lessons online by Richards' husband, Nathan Corr, who has been teaching guitar virtually for a few years.

"We had a big house discussion," said Corr. "[Richards] went to me instantly and said like, 'okay well what are the various features of Zoom and how does it compare to Skype or Facetime?'"

So far one of the biggest differences Richards has noticed with video lessons has little to do with the change in venue.

"I've never had students more prepared after March Break," she told CBC Toronto. "They've had all this time to practice."

Violin teacher Kailey Richards says the resonance she normally listens for with her violin students gets distorted over the internet, but she's learning to adjust. (Nathan Corr)

But Richards says there are also challenges with making the switch from in-person lessons to online ones in order to maintain physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. 

For one, the resonance she normally listens for with her violin students gets distorted over the internet. 


"I've noticed that if the violin isn't ringing and resonating I just get white noise," said Richards. "I'm slowly starting to tune into that, so it's a learning curve."

Despite those obstacles, parents like Erica Shum and Gerald Chan are thrilled that Richards' violin lessons are continuing, so that their four-year-old son can have some of his routine back.

"He doesn't have any of his sporting activities, so it's really nice that he has a little bit of that sort of normalcy," Shum told CBC Toronto. 

Theo Chan started learning the violin last summer, and began private lessons with Richards in the fall.

"He just takes on this glow of happiness," said Gerald Chan. "Not just playing music, I mean definitely when he's playing the violin, but also when we're driving around and he's listening to his Suzuki C.D." 

Erica Shum (left) and Gerald Chan (right) are thrilled that Kailey Richards' violin lessons are continuing, so that their four-year-old son Theo can have some of his routine back. (Zoom)

Richards had her first virtual lesson with Theo the week after March Break and says he's easy to teach.


"He's a beautiful little musician," she said. "He's an incredibly patient and very dedicated student which suits the violin really well."

And it's not just kids who might need some routine back right now. Many of Tina Torlone's singing students are seniors.

"Some of them are a little bit hesitant about the technology," said Torlone, one of Richards' housemates. "But I'm surprised how many are deciding they're going to give it a try, because they love to sing so much."

While virtual lessons are practical in a pandemic, pianist Erica Crino says tactical aspects of teaching like how much pressure to put on the piano keys, and playing posture are much easier to demonstrate in person. 

"It could substitute a lesson when a kid is sick," said Crino, who also lives with the other musicians. "But I don't think it will substitute in person lessons completely when life returns to normal."

Until that happens though, she and her housemates are happy to continue their lessons online. 

"All our performances have been cancelled," Crino told CBC Toronto. "So [teaching] has been a lifesaver in many ways."


Nicole Brockbank
Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories.