LIVE MUSIC IS one of the pleasures from the “before times” that I most profoundly miss. But I’ve now become one of a few people I know who’ve decided that if life gives us silence, we’re going to make our own noise.
My husband, Bill, was the first in our household to make the leap. He’s always been into singing, and when our actor/singer friend Emily DenBleyker put out word that she’d be offering video voice lessons, Bill took the plunge. For the past few months, I’ve spent a delightful hour every Sunday listening to him doing vocal exercises and practicing songs.
DenBleyker was teaching at Shoreline Music School when the pandemic struck; many of those students didn’t make the switch to online. But she’s picking up the slack by teaching people that friends have recommended her to. “I get to work with people I wouldn’t get to work with otherwise, which is the best thing for me,” she says.
Those lessons got me thinking about the ukulele Bill bought me after I gave up trying to play the guitar, an instrument that always felt just a little too unwieldy in my arms. The ukulele had barely left its case since I got it.
Life had always seemed too busy for lessons, and my previous failures at learning instruments made me shy about trying again. My newfound motivation led me to Jean Mann, a professional musician who also offers ukulele lessons. Fortunately, Mann has a lot of experience coaching timid newbies. “Mostly, I just want people to have fun and get into it pretty quickly,” she told me during our first conversation.
With her dog curled up behind her at her house and my cats looking on curiously at mine, she took me through how to tune the ukulele, how to hold it and how to make chords. Soon I was strumming away.
I was skeptical when she said she’d have me playing a song after only an hour, but by the time that first lesson ended, I knew three chords and could eke out a basic tune. Even more surprising: I was actually having fun.
The lessons are a way to step out of the Groundhog Day-esque existence we’ve recently found ourselves in. For me, it’s a way to use my brain for something other than puzzling out how to string words together, and my hands for something other than typing on a keyboard.
Learning a new skill is, well, something new — a rare commodity in our current world. And I don’t even need to leave my house to do it.
Our need for teachers comes at a time when performers, who rely on in-person events for much of their income, are having an especially rough time. Mann saw an album-launch party and a slew of gigs canceled and isn’t sure when she’ll be giving concerts again.
Having taught only in person before, she wasn’t sure how virtual lessons would go. But, “The switch came much more smoothly than I thought it would,” she says.
DenBleyker feels the same way. “I think it’s made me a better teacher because I have to think around the corners,” she says, and anticipate potential problems before they arise.
Another benefit of learning something musical: Music is one thing that reliably brings joy, no matter the circumstances. “I thought, ‘Why would you want to play silly songs during this time?’ But people need silly songs,” Mann says.