RED WING -- After months of virtual lessons, the Universal Music Center has opened its doors again.
Online lessons continue to be an option, too. Director Mike Arturi has discovered that connecting with students virtually has opened up new possibilities.
Families that live beyond the 20-mile radius most people are willing to drive for lessons are discovering new ways to pursue music education and performance.
Minnesota’s stay-at-home mandate affected the nonprofit music school, which is located at the Anderson Center at Tower View, just as it did programs and businesses of all sizes.
“We went to all online” lessons in late February out of concern for students and instructors, Arturi said. “We saw this coming,” and immediately looked for a workable online program.
When the shutdown hit, the UMC had 135 students ages 4 to 84 – most of them ages 8 to 14.
“We lost about 15 percent of the students,” Arturi said, due to a combination of family economics and regular turnover.
He admits being apprehensive about launching the new program, “but I was thrilled with the results,” he said. “Not long after, the whole world turned to Zoom. … Everything has gone virtual.”
The program he chose, whereby.com, does not require an app and can be done on any device. The music instructors connected via their laptops, working from home.
Arturi found a clip device that enables the teacher to attach a cellphone so that it focuses on the instructor’s hands, giving the student two views of the lesson. “They can see what the instructor is doing, close up,” he said.
One-on-one lessons continued with four instructors: Mark Woerpel and Joe Elliott on guitar, Susan Forsythe on strings and piano, and Scott Kovar on drums. Woerpel also teaches saxophone, vocals and songwriting.
They all are university-trained professional educators and working musicians who have performed with major artists and orchestras.
Arturi, longtime drummer with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame band The Lovin’ Spoonful, runs the business and produces UMC live concerts.
During the shutdown he also created eight episodes of a video learning program, “Stir Crazy,” which was made available to area schools.
He is involved in several arts education programs and activities for at-risk and underserved youths, people with disabilities, vulnerable adults and seniors. Most of those programs were canceled, he said, but “It’s starting to come back.”
The Universal Music Center’s doors reopened in late June as an option. About 65% of the students resumed face-to-face lessons; others continued online.
Arturi is adding a third option that is a hybrid of in-person and online lessons. Students can participate in virtual lessons but come to the UMC for live rehearsals, recording sessions and concerts.
“Participating in live concerts gives students so many things,” he pointed out. “It accelerates learning” by encouraging them to practice before a performance, enhances self-confidence, provides life skills and promotes creativity.
Arturi runs the concerts like he would a Lovin’ Spoonful performance. In that professional atmosphere students learn to combat stage fright, he explained, and they achieve a short-term goal.
The first live concert since the shutdown will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 in Central Park, as part of Red Wing Arts’ concerts in the park series. Some former students may be special guests.
A number of past UMC students have found success in the field, Arturi pointed out.
Eleven former students who came to the school as 10- or 11-year-olds with no experience are now professional working musicians, songwriters and/or recording artists, he said.
All students are encouraged to write original music that is then recorded in a studio at the music school. Students participate in the entire process. “It’s a tremendous form of self-expression,” Arturi said.
Because of coronavirus, changes had to be made at the school. Masks are required, and lessons are limited to one person at a time.
Forsythe, Woerpel and Kovar have well-ventilated, private studios for face-to-face lessons; Elliott is doing virtual lessons only. Riley Gulotta, a former student, is interning as a guitar instructor.
Arturi built Plexiglas barriers that stand between the student and the teacher. Deep cleaning, hand sanitizer and wipes are part of the routine.
Looking back on the past five months, “It went way better than I thought it was going to go,” Arturi said. “We’ve done all we can to be safe and compliant. Kids are coming back.”
For more information, go online to www.universalmusiccenter.com, look the school up on Facebook or call Arturi at 651-301-9223.