CCSM reimagines music instruction

by Steven Felschundneff |

Like everyone else across the country, the Claremont Community School of Music has been forced to rethink its game recently. Gone are the in-person classes, tutor sessions, concerts and fundraising events—replaced by the now familiar video conference class or FaceTime with a mentor.

However, out of this era of being apart came some tantalizing creativity that manifested itself in the Claremont Community School of Music virtual orchestra. The idea came up just as in-person classes were shutting down.

According to Executive Director Matthew Keating, they sought to keep the students engaged by giving them something fun to do as a group. He said a live collaboration online was impracticable because of the lag created by the internet connection. Thus, the idea came up for each musician to record just their part at home and then combine the pieces into a synchronized video recording.

To participate, musicians first select their chosen part to perform from a list on the Claremont Community School of Music website.

A computerized version of the part and sheet music can then be downloaded, along with a virtual metronome to keep everyone playing in the same timing.

After practicing the piece, the final recording can be made with a smart phone or other recording device and uploaded to the school’s website.

“It’s lonely to play an instrument by yourself that is meant to be played together,” Mr. Keating said. “So we tried to find a way to do something as community. It’s not the same as performing live but it’s pretty good.”

There are 39 different parts for a wide range of instruments, including popular brass, strings and woodwinds,  but also some unusual selections such as bagpipe and hand bells.

The CCSM staff chose the Scottish folk song “O, Waly Waly,” aka “The Water is Wide,” with an arrangement by school staff member Kirstin Simpson. The song begins with a woeful lament, “The water is wide and I cannot cross over; And neither have I wings to fly.” But it continues with a glimmer of hopefulness, “Build me a boat that can carry two; And both shall row My love and I.”

“It’s a song of caring for each other and hope for the future,” Mr. Keating said. “The water is wide and takes a while to cross, however, by coming together as a community we can persevere over something we cannot do alone and conquer this difficult time.”

Nine-year-old Jonathan Fan chose one of the cello parts, even though he has much more experience playing the piano. He said the cello piece, “makes a beautiful sound and it’s very soft and peaceful.”

Jonathan recorded his part earlier in the week from his family’s sunroom after practicing until he had it memorized. He has played live recitals before that he described as scary compared with performing at home. Plus, he said it is fun to see other people in the video and play together.

Mr. Keating really wants the virtual orchestra to be a community effort and said it is definitely not just for CCSM students. Anyone interested in participating just has to get their part recorded and uploaded by the deadline on July 4. After that, he and the staff will mix the final video performance and post it on their website and YouTube channel.

“The silver lining is that we would never had tried this if not for the quarantine,” Mr. Keating said. “All walks of life and ability levels can join, maybe someone who picked up guitar last week can learn a part.”

For the CCSM, performance is what they work toward year round, playing in monthly recitals and the year’s big fundraising event—the Performathon—each May. The students begin practicing in January for the Performathon and were just getting ready when the event was cancelled for this year.

Mr. Keating describes it as a miniature version of the OLA Fiesta, with carnival games, raffle items and a marathon of recitals all day. All proceeds go to the CCSM scholarship fund for kids who can not afford to take music lessons.

Claremont Community School of Music charges tuition for its group and private classes, however, that money largely goes directly to the teachers, so the school’s fundraising efforts are crucial to keep offering classes to underprivileged children.

Mr. Keating said they are currently providing scholarships to 50 students, all of whom come from our community and are selected based on financial need.

The next opportunity to donate money to the school will be on Friday, June 26, when they will host a trivia night on the CCSM YouTube channel.

For details about the virtual orchestra and the trivia night, or to sign up for an online class, visit or you can call them at (909) 624-3012.

CCSM also gladly accepts checks for the scholarship fund, which can be mailed to The Claremont Community School of Music, 951 Foothill Blvd., Claremont, CA 91711.


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