The COVID-19 Pandemic closed everything around the world from your office to your favourite restaurant to your favourite concert halls and then, slowly, we figured out how to Zoom, the wonders of online ordering and delivery, and the concerts that have been broadcast all over the world.
Some things, however, were harder to fix. Music lessons were one of difficult ones to solve – how can you improve (given all that free time to practice) if you can’t get good feedback?
Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing came up with his own perfect solution: combine all the home-bound performers with home-bound students. And, better yet, many of the performers were people you never ever thought that you could study with!
Welcome to VirtuMasterClass.
Would you like to study piano with Freddy Kempf or Jon Kimura Parker? Violin with Ilya Gringolts? Voice with Dolora Zajick or Sairmir Pirgu? Or perhaps just a coaching and diction session with Irene Kudela? Lang-Lessing’s list of available teachers grows and all the musicians in the world benefit.
Ysaÿe: Violin Sonata in E Major, Op. 27, No. 6 (Ilya Gringolts, violin)
We asked what he saw as the advantage to learning via computer and he said that, although in-person classes were best, VirtuMasterClass were finding that the online classes provided the opportunity for a very focused lesson. Perhaps all of our hours staring at screens and ignoring the world around us actually had a real purpose! On a larger scale, online learning not only helps us manage our time better but also saves the planet in terms of travel. Lessons are recorded so that the student can revisit and review.
Verdi: Don Carlos, Act IV: O don fatale (Dolora Zajick, mezzo-soprano; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; James Levine, cond.)
Too shy to do a class on your own? Then small groups are possible – the difficulty, of course, is that the more people you add in, the more complex the scheduling becomes! Want to keep the cost down? You can book a package of 5 lessons at a discounted price.
Stravinsky: 3 Movements from Petrushka: No. 3. La semaine grasse (The Shrove-tide Fair) (Freddy Kempf, piano)
As a student, you will be impressed with the range and quality of the teachers. In response, the teachers have been impressed with the students they’ve had. As in all teacher-student situations, the education doesn’t only go one way – the students are also inspirational.
Another advantage of the VirtuMasterClass system is that your introduction is eased – you don’t have to work up your courage to approach a performer, VirtuMasterClass has made the introduction for you.
Future developments that Lang-Lessing envisions is expansion of the wind and brass offerings, and adding a double bassist. We asked about his own specialty, conducting, and he didn’t say no, but he did point out that learning conducting without an orchestra (or pianist, at a minimum) for some direct feedback might be harder due to the time delay that can occur. On the other hand, all conductors need to know the background: how to analyse the music and how to read a score is something that must be behind all the arm waving in the world. But technique can be taught online, along with rehearsal structuring, interpretational and stylistic questions.
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90, MWV N16, “Italian” (Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra; Sebastian Lang-Lessing, cond.)
Another advantage of studying with real performers through VirtuMasterClass is that students are learning from teachers who have real on-stage experience and who understand what it means to take your hard work out of the rehearsal space and onto a stage. The level of the artists is significant – they are truly teaching from a performer’s perspective and not simply reiterating the same old academic regimen. About 70% of the artists on the VirtuMasterClass teach regularly, but the other 30% have only rarely been available for students.
You can book your lesson via the website directly with your teacher. One warning, however, is that, in our experience, the site is VERY SLOW so have patience. Practice a few scales. The screen will eventually load. The site is moving to a new server and the speeds will improve soon. In any case, the Zoom lessons are not affected by it.
In many ways, VirtuMasterClass is the right solution at the right time – just when we’re all going crazy sitting at home, we can now focus on bringing the world to us and expand our musical expertise at the same time.