Learning an instrument or becoming a strong vocalist is no easy task.
Throw in a pandemic and virtual classes and it becomes even more of a challenge.
At least that’s what Cynthia Lee’s students have found at Saratoga Springs’ Maple Avenue Middle School.
“The whole practice piece of everything has been so hard for the kids, as well as us as instructors. We’re trying to minimize what we’re doing, trying to maintain their skill level but still, it’s really hard to see either maintenance or progress,” Lee said.
It’s part of the reason why she and her husband, Milton, a fellow music teacher and director of the jazz ensemble and symphonic band at Saratoga Springs High School, started a month-long Practice-A-Thon.
Around 700 music students in Maple Ave Middle School and the high school are practicing to raise money for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the Franklin Community Center. Students are encouraged to have friends and family pledge a donation for every hour they practice, which they record through software called SmartMusic. It allows teachers to assign different pieces of music to work on and keep track of their students’ progress.
The program has helped both students and teachers quite a lot when it comes to practicing during the pandemic, said Lee.
However, motivation has been a major issue.
“. . . whether we’re in an orchestra or in a choir or putting on the school musical, we work in groups and it’s very easy to get that motivation from each other and from the audiences that we perform for and our teachers,” said Dennis Moench, the senior director of education at SPAC. “When we’re separated from all of those things, it’s really difficult to find that motivation . . . I’ve heard from a number of teachers and students that it has been very difficult to self-motivate this year.”
Part of the reason for that could also be that their end goals, whether that be a performance or a competition have been removed or altered in some ways. The Practice-A-Thon gives students that end goal or something to work toward.
“I’ve already seen a huge improvement just this week. It’s incredible,” Lee told the Gazette last week. At that point, her class had already put in around 21 hours of practice.
“I think it’s going to be a very good thing and I think if the kids do a little more practice than they have been, they’re going to see their own success. They’re going to see that they’re going to be able to play this stuff better. And I think they’ll see it immediately if they really do it, which we’re hoping will be what will get us through the end of the year,” Lee said.
“I always have felt that art is an outlet for self-expression and in these times when we are either apart from one another or we lack certain resources or access to things like rehearsal studios and stages that it’s really important to motivate students to continue creating because I think once we lose that outlet for self-expression we lose so many things that are just truly essential to our humanity,” Moench said.
Many students have asked their family members and friends to sponsor them at a dollar or two an hour. For those who don’t yet have sponsors, community members can sign up to sponsor through the Friends of Music Saratoga Springs group.
For privacy, the sponsors won’t be connected directly with students but with the teachers.
“It was really important to give everybody the opportunity to participate. This allows community members to get involved so that all the students can really participate and make a difference and help in the fundraising,” Moench said.
For more information visit fomtoga.org.