Still Learning and Creating While Sheltering in Place

Apr 8, 2020

Before the coronavirus pandemic, The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center Chicago had a robust adult piano lesson program. Daytime classes drew mostly seniors – the oldest 84! – who wanted to learn a new skill or brush up on a longtime talent. Evening classes catered to those in the workforce, who would trek to the facility in the West Pullman neighborhood after work to finish their day on a creative note. Private lessons helped those of any age take their piano skills to the next level.

When the coronavirus hit – and all the resulting stay-at-home orders – that all came to a screeching halt.

But music teacher Michael LaDisa, the Music and Gospel Arts Manager at Kroc, wasn’t ready to give up on his students and their musical growth. He’d been contemplating adding an online element to the music program for some time. “Now it was a priority,” he said.

“We want to keep our students engaged while our center is closed. This shows them they are important to us and it allows them to progress and hopefully even have some positive social interaction with us and each other while COVID-19 is keeping us all apart,” Michael said.

On March 26, he launched a private Facebook group called Chi Kroc Adult Piano, where he started releasing a five-part series of two-minute instructional videos he created about how students can make the most of their practice time during the shelter-in-place mandate. Soon after the launch, he began contacting current and former adult piano students, inviting them to the free group. The response was encouraging.

“After less than a week in operation, this group had 15 posts, 101 views, 33 reactions, and 41 comments,” Michael said. “This engagement is the activity of just the first 15 members, but there are new members adding every day.” 

He challenged his online students to set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals for the month of April and post videos of their progress. “I received one email from a student letting me know exactly what she is planning to accomplish in April and why, and how she was planning to accomplish it. It read like an Olympic training manual!” he said. “All that to say, this seems to really be catching on and meeting a need.”

Comments on the Facebook page certainly back that up. “I really appreciate the tutorials,” wrote a 72-year-old student who posted a video of her playing a song she’s been working on mastering. Another student, 84-year-old Audrey, wrote, “I viewed your five videos and ready to start SMART. I am practicing ‘On Parade.’ I’m working on a video which is the next step in this communication challenge.”

Michael says he especially appreciates seeing older students engaging the Facebook group, overcoming any potential technical challenges or intimidation. He also thinks that having a creative outlet right now is important. “With more discretionary time, it’s healthy physically and spiritually to do something creative with that time,” he said. “God is the Creator, and when we create, we’re imaging him. There’s something spiritual about exercising our creativity.”

For now, Michael and his staff are continuing to reach out to current and former students, encouraging them to join the group – and encouraging those already in the online community to share videos of themselves playing. Part of a similar online music group himself, Michael dreams of a dynamic community learning from and encouraging one another daily.

“I hope that students will be inspired to continue practicing and making gains in their repertoire and musicianship,” he said. “I am also hoping they will be encouraged to explore music as a creative outlet via composing, improvising, and recording as they find themselves with more idle time.”

As he seeks to help students find that silver lining in this trying period, he has confidence they can find it – just like he did when the coronavirus prompted him to finally launch this creative online community. In the meantime, he looks forward to the beautiful music that will come forth from this difficult season.

Learn about all the ways The Salvation Army is responding to the coronavirus – as well as how you can help – at salarmychicago.org/coronavirus


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For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.


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