Published October 30. 2020 10:57PM
BY KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdown began in March, Community Music School of the Lehigh Valley (CMS) could no longer offer in-person music lessons in its facility at 1544 Hamilton St., Allentown.
However, the nearly 40-year-old nonprofit whose mission is to provide affordable music instruction for area children, had an ace up its sleeve.
“When it became clear the pandemic was coming, we had a contingency plan,” says Jeff Reed, CMS Director.
“We could follow the directive of the governor and still offer lessons virtually. We were able to continue without missing a beat, “ Reed says.
CMS’s 25 teachers have continued to give hundreds of lessons on piano, strings, guitar, other instruments and voice to children and adults across the Lehigh Valley and Berks County via Zoom and other online platforms.
CMS was founded in 1981 at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Allentown, by four music teachers who wanted to make sure children of all incomes had access to music lessons.
In 2004, CMS’s growing program moved from the church’s Christian Education Building along South Fifth Street, Allentown, to Miller Symphony Hall, along Sixth Street, Allentown.
In 2018, CMS relocated to its spacious building, the former Lehigh Valley Club, near 15th and Hamilton streets.
The building was renovated. Reed says each room was equipped with high-speed internet, with an eye toward remote lessons.
“It’s been something we talked about,” says Lisa Hopstock, CMS Assistant Director.
“It had been on our radar for a while but this forced it to happen. We were surprised how well it was received and how well the technology works,” Hopstock says.
Reed adds that it was important to continue to operate since student tuition is 38 percent of the CMS’s revenue.
“It’s going extremely well, “ he says. “I was surprised how seamless the switch to online lessons was and pleased with how the teachers and students adapted.”
Hopstock notes that online lessons also allow CMS to expand its reach. Already, CMS has students from as far away as South Carolina. “We are opening up our market,” she says.
There are also downsides.
Hopstock says, unfortunately, some students don’t have access to the internet at home or don’t own laptops, so the school can’t reach those children.
“Those are the people who need us most, “ she says.
Also, CMS vocal and instrumental groups had to be suspended as did live performances.
Hopstock says recitals were switched to virtual. The school hosted a live watch party on YouTube so that students could chat with each other.
“It was neat to see people interacting with each other, since they hadn’t seen each other in awhile,” she says.
CMS’s annual performance at Musikfest became “Summerfest” on YouTube after the annual Bethlehem music festival was canceled. CMS’s annual brunch and auction fund-raiser also moved online.
She says CMS’s upcoming “Monster Concert” will be virtual as well.
The popular annual Halloween-themed concert, for which students wear costumes during their performances, usually takes place at Barnes & Noble at The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, Upper Saucon Township, with a book fair fund-raiser and costume contest.
Instead, the concert will be presented online, 2-4 p.m. Oct. 31: www.youtube.com/user/CMSLehighValley.
Hopstock says CMS’s holiday recital will be virtual or live, depending on the status of the quarantine.
“We can hope,” she says.
Also postponed and going online is the lecture-recital series, “Women in Music,” featuring CMS faculty members Julia Katherine Walsh, soprano, and Dr. Tzu-Hwa Ho, piano.
Originally scheduled as a free brown bag lecture for spring 2020, the series is:
“Women as Muses”: Richard Strauss’s “Mädchenblumen Lieder,” Opus 22, and Andre Previn’s “Three Dickinson Songs”;
“Women as Performers”: songs that were calling cards for singers such as Joan Sutherland, Kathleen Battle and Beverly Sills, and
“Women as Composers”: the works of Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Gloria Coates and Amy H.H. Beach.
Hopstock says the dates for the series and watch parties will be announced soon on www.cmslv.org.
While the CMS building has been closed to students, Reed says that school officials took the opportunity to complete some projects and do some updates to the facility.
A donor wall was installed in the front lobby.
CMS has been investigating a reopening plan, but Reed says officials “want to do it right and carefully.”
Meanwhile, the CMS building remains closed until state-mandated restrictions are lifted and the board of directors determines that it is safe to resume in-person lessons and group classes.
“We hope to reopen in a safe way,” says Reed.
Even when the CMS building reopens, online lessons will continue.
“Many people like the virtual lessons, but there are those who prefer the in-person experience” he says.
“When things are ready, we have a plan.”
More Information on online music lessons: https://cmslv.org/; 610-435-7725
Original article on Lehigh Valley Press https://www.lvpnews.com/20201030/community-music-school-carries-on-without-missing-a-beat-annual-monster-c/