“Lessons via Zoom and Skype have been a welcome challenge in being clear with my language,” said West Mt. Airy cellist Rachel Cama Nemer. “The younger the child I am teaching (at two local …
by Len Lear
When the coronavirus pandemic began, many local musicians and music teachers were devastated and/or depressed for obvious reasons, but creative people are resilient and find ways to cope and adjust to new circumstances. Take West Mt. Airy resident Rachel Cama Nemer, 39, for example, who has been a journalist, singer, teacher, cellist and yoga instructor, all at the professional level.
Lately, however, she has been teaching the cello full-time at Settlement Music School (Queen Village branch) and for Maplewood Music School in Chestnut Hill and Germantown. After the original pandemic shock, her adjustment to the “new normal” has been quite successful albeit not completely seamless.
“Lessons via Zoom and Skype (whatever the student’s preference) have been a welcome challenge in being clear with my language,” she said last week. “The younger the child I am teaching, the more vivid the description required. A few main things had to be adjusted...
“I cannot see the details of the student’s instrument, so I need to ask questions like 'Have you been tuning your instrument? Is it staying in tune? Is your bow tightened?' or dealing with the logistics — making sure they are seated in properly sized chairs, that their feet are flat on the floor. As a former yoga teacher whose lessons involve a strong body awareness element, this is tricky.
“Tuning can be difficult, too. Zoom will sometimes make the student’s string sound flat or sharp. It is hard for me to tell if it is the computer or if they need to tune the instrument. They are children, so sometimes they don’t know.
“Another challenge of Zoom/Skype online learning due to the Covid-19 shut-downs is that my own kids have been home with me 24/7 while my spouse has still been working outside the home. My situation is not unique, but I have been juggling them, which means a ton of screen time and coordinating with the younger one’s naps. It’s tough! They actually just went back to daycare/camp for half-days this past week.”
Nemer, who grew up in Towanda, northern Pennsylvania, a town of less than 4,000 people, began playing the cello at age 4, using the Suzuki method. she graduated from Penn State University in 2003, where she was a scholarship student. She proceeded to earn an academic music master’s degree from Brandeis University and a performance graduate degree from Longy School of Music near Boston that enabled her to specialize in Early Music Performance Practice.
Nemer wound up in West Mt. Airy after traveling to take lessons with Sarah Cunningham, a renowned viola da gamba player who had recently moved back to her town of origin, Haverford. At the time she was taking a year off to study yoga and Eastern philosophy, and when her year came to an end, Cunningham invited Nemer to live at her home for a while to motivate Nemer to move to Philadelphia permanently. It worked. That was nine years ago, and Nemer has chosen to live in Mt. Airy ever since.
Did Nemer lose any students because of the pandemic? “Yes. I had a private student elect to take a break because they were not learning well online but plans to return. I also gained two cello students. These were kids who lost their elementary school-provided lessons and sought out private teaching; I have never met them in person, which is a bit strange. As far as my pre-school music students, their participation was somewhat optional. As is the case in the elementary schools, their participation was not always consistent. However, enough logged in that it was worth it.”
When the pandemic is over, will Nemer continue doing some or most or all of her music lessons by Zoom and Skype? “Honestly, I hope to see the majority of my students in person! It is much better, but I plan to utilize more instructional videos, allow students to schedule video check-ins if they are struggling or send videos. Settlement Music is planning to continue online at least in some fashion. I would think online learning would be integrated a bit more into traditional educational models, but we have yet to see how that pans out. Of course, I will try to embrace whatever we need to do even if it is not my preference.
“I would like the ability to put invisible, individual shields around myself, my family, my colleagues and my students so we can all make our music in person and not have to worry about COVID-19!”
For more information, visit rachelcamanemer.com. You can reach Len Lear at email@example.com