The show must go on: Philly music and dancing schools groove online

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- Student musicians never thought they would have rehearsal in their bedrooms.

Yet, dozens are practicing their guitars, violins, and percussion instruments via online classes.

It's a stark contrast for Musicopia and Dancing Classrooms Philly, which typically depend on close human interaction to create musical magic within the community.

Founded in 1974, Musicopia has transformed the lives of thousands of children each year through in-school and after-school programs. Between its string orchestra and drumlines, students have a chance to hone their individual talents while contributing to a greater musical masterpiece.

Dancing Classrooms Philly began in 2007 with the mission of improving self-esteem and social awareness in children. Managing Director Kate Lombardi told us, "Through the process of having to interact with someone in such a close way...it's a really special transition that happens."

These special moments were threatened by the initial spark of the COVID-19 pandemic in early March, 2020. However, these partnered organizations quickly digitized their hundreds of programs.

"How were we going to keep our students engaged and learning and rehearsing even when we couldn't be together in person?" asked Talia Yellin Fisher, manager of the Musicopia String Orchestra.

They answered that question in the first weekend.

"They were in person, what 90-something students, the Tuesday prior and they were online the Tuesday after," said Denise Kinney, Executive Director of both Musicopia and Dancing Classrooms Philly.

Now, kids are taking violin lessons, participating in live stretch classes, and grooving in weekly dance parties using the online video chat program, Zoom.
Teaching Artist Alex Mitnick used the platform to connect his music students who attend Overbrook School for the Blind. Together, they wrote and performed a song that turned into a virtual music video they can share with the world.

This dynamic duo is aiming to continue using digital platforms to rehearse for orchestras, drumlines, and more for the foreseeable future. It has become another tool through which they provide every child an opportunity to play music regardless of their circumstances.

Even through the pandemic, Musicopia is continuing its Gift of Music Instrument Donation program, which collects and repairs instruments to distribute among students who lack the opportunity to purchase one for themselves. In the last 10 years, they have collected more than 4,000 instruments.

To learn more about the programs or to support their cause, visit the Musicopia and Dancing Classrooms Philly websites.

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