by D’aci Knight (private CA student of Helen Callus, Professor of Viola, Bienen School of Music at Northwestern)
Technically, you could say I have been studying viola since I was seven years old. I haven’t always had a teacher; I taught myself from books for the first several years. Then I spent a few years bouncing around different teachers, a lesson with one teacher and two or three lessons with another. I’ve never really been a very traditional student. When I met Professor Callus I was relieved to finally have met a teacher I could connect with and the rapport we had together was instantaneous.
I studied with Professor Callus for two years before she was offered a position at Northwestern University, which is halfway across the country from California, where I live. When I first learned that Professor Callus would be moving to Chicago to teach at NU, I was happy for her and also devastated at the thought of no longer being able to continue my weekly studies with her. It’s a 4 hour flight from LA to Chicago and moving was not an option. Then Professor Callus brought up the option of continuing lessons through FaceTime. FaceTime lessons were a new idea for me, and I was tentative at first. How well was it going to work? Would I be able to hear her, or her hear me? Would it be as frustrating as trying to talk to my cousins during boisterous FaceTimed holiday gatherings? My biggest worry was that a choppy, glitchy FaceTime lesson would be more challenging than it would be worth and I would lose my teacher plus however many wasted lessons spent trying to make the technology catch up to real life.
To my extreme relief, my worries were unfounded. My standard semi-rural internet reception has maintained a strong connection during each lesson, without lags or glitches. Within moments of beginning a lesson I forget about the screen and feel as though Professor Callus is sitting two feet in front of me, studying my hands as I play. I feel the same swell of nerves and excitement performing a piece for her on FaceTime as I did in person. I am able to see and hear Professor Callus as she demonstrates playing a passage for me. The lessons are almost identical to the lessons in her studio, with some minor modifications. She may have to wave a hand at me to stop playing where before she was able to just tell me to stop. But I am able to understand Professor Callus’ instructions as clearly as if we were in the same room, and I have the added benefit of being able to record the lesson and go back and listen to it afterwards. I also don’t have to spend thirty minutes or an hour driving back and forth to lessons, and I’m able to remain warmed up until lesson time.
I have grown up in a world where video chats with grandparents connect families and most colleges now even offer online classes. My own parents live- stream my recitals for family and friends on social media. I even attend an online high school. And now I am taking private viola lessons through FaceTime. FaceTime lessons might not be an ideal replacement for in-person lessons for some people, especially when starting lessons or learning from a new teacher, but it is an excellent option that is allowing me to continue studying with a valued teacher and I appreciate that the technology for this option exists.