A time for optimism3:55, 22nd December 2020
Gil Jetley, founder of the Music Holiday Italy piano courses, reflects on the opportunities and silver linings that have arisen from the difficulties of the pandemic
For piano teachers, 2020 has been challenging. Lockdowns, self-isolating, and maintaining a two-metre distance certainly complicate matters. Online lessons are a poor substitute for the real thing, and even the technology involved can prove a hurdle for many.
At Music Holiday Italy we faced a worrying season, reliant as we are on overseas students from all over the world, including China. Italy, the first European country to succumb to Covid, was particularly hard hit at a time when nobody really understood how to treat the virus. But while other countries scrambled to get to grips with their exploding infection rates, Italy had already imposed a severe lockdown which largely confined the outbreak to the northern regions. In other regions, life was pretty much back to normal by May, masks notwithstanding. Shops, bars and restaurants were all open for business again.
The remote location of Montemuse in Italy’s Marche region, where our piano courses take place, has sometimes proved an inconvenience, but for once it was a real life-saver. Far from the troubled areas, a week at Montemuse practically amounted to self-isolating! It meant that we would be able to continue our traditional one-on-one coaching weeks, albeit with the added complications Covid brought to international travel. Or so we thought.
The cancellations began to filter in… Would-be students either couldn’t leave their home countries or couldn’t transit through countries en route, and US students faced a blanket ban on entry to Italy due to the American infection rate. Some students were simply too frightened to make the journey, unsure of what they would find when they arrived, or how things might be by the time they returned home.
But when one door closes another opens. The restrictions forcing people to stay at home meant that amateur pianists now had much more time for music – and we unexpectedly had many empty coaching weeks to fill. Here was an opportunity for a perfect blending of events. By stretching out the coaching weeks into multi-week courses, we could give students two, three or even four times as much coaching for the same amount of travel. And for us it would mean pretty much a full season. We hadn’t considered multi-week courses before since they’re not without certain risks: many students are first-timers, and while the 24-hour hospitality included in our courses is manageable for a week, we could hardly predict whether problems might arise during a longer stay.
We needn’t have worried. Several students found they wanted to and were able to stay for more than a week, making up a full season for us. It was a hugely rewarding experiment. Intensive daily coaching for two, three, or more weeks is exhausting but it makes rapid progress possible, and nothing is more satisfying for a teacher. One student was so keen she stayed a whole month!
The season is over now and unfortunately Covid is still with us, but we still have to plan for 2021. Next year we’ll also have to accommodate whatever Brexit brings; that only affects UK students of course, and we’re lucky that many also come from other countries and continents. Multi-week courses proved their worth this year so we’ll continue to offer those. And even this year’s cancellations have a silver lining: the majority postponed their bookings to next year, meaning we are already well advanced with provisional bookings.
Times are difficult and worrying, but as musicians we are fortunate to work in a profession we love, a calling that can help us deal with the hardships ahead. This is a time for optimism, and what can make us more hopeful than time spent in the company of piano music?
Music Holiday Italy runs coaching weeks for amateur pianists in central Italy from Easter till October. musicholidayitaly.com