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Unwinding Lockdown – Baby Steps




19.05.20 – Darrell Priestley

Yesterday was a good day. A landmark, even. After precisely eight weeks of working exclusively  at home, my wife and I returned to work, accompanied by Pip, our pet poodle. He was thrilled, checking all the familiar scent posts along the way; it seems he had really missed them, the way he lingered at each one. On the other hand, in between trees and posts it was like trying to take a tank engine for a walk; but that’s Pip for you!

Inside the building it was very quiet, of course, as we continue to be closed for the present time and were working with the door locked. Truth be told, we rattled around a bit, but still there was a sense of purpose. For the most part, my time was spent teaching in my usual studio again, on one of my favourite pianos, and oh how I had missed it – it was glorious! The light was better for teaching, the sound improved too, and somehow, even though I taught the same students as last Monday, it just felt better. Not as good as teaching in person, admittedly, but still feeling like something of a return to normal, and I was very glad indeed that this was possible.

My wife, Eileen, spent her time at her desk catching up with phone calls, messages, banking, business suppliers, etc. Returning to work after a long break like this feels a little odd, part apprehension, part anticipation, but in the end the feeling was positive. Significantly, one benefit is that we can now draw a line between work and home again, which is something that can get a mite blurred when almost all of one’s existence takes place under just one roof. One more benefit, which I will enjoy while it lasts, is spending evenings off duty at home, much of the time in the garden, now that teaching is concentrated into the daytime for a change.

Many people are understandably missing the office, their friends and colleagues, and some have found it more difficult than others to adapt to home working. Equally though, lots of us have been surprised about how productive we can be in these less than ideal circumstances. My own experience has been an odd mix, being very glad indeed to be able to continue teaching, something which I really enjoy, but missing the immediacy of working live, where you can duet, count, play or clap along in real time with the student’s performance (ie with no delay), or illustrate a point easily with a musical example, or sometimes even just a gesture.

Working from home, it took me a while to find my feet, to get to the point where I felt properly productive in the way I would expect of myself. If I’m honest, I have really missed working with students in person, and communicating has been so much harder than usual. Students process information in such different ways, and in the classroom it seems easier to compensate for this and find ways to help every individual learn in a way that works for them. The challenge presented when teaching online is in trying to ensure that everyone is comfortable, while working in remote locations and in circumstances which are quite unfamiliar. Although only one day in to my return to teaching from the regular studio once more, the experience was uplifting, and maybe just as it has helped me feel better, the familiar background may also have put students more at their ease.

As one of our parents, Kelly, observed, returning to ‘normal’ is all about taking baby steps, and we took one yesterday. As to the future, we very much look forward to welcoming students back to enjoying their lessons at the Northern Music Academy, which will happen when the time is right. In the meantime, I look forward to welcoming my students to lessons where the background, at least, is comfortingly familiar.