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Piano teacher Debbie Bastian of Grand Island also is a worship leader at New Covenant Church in Tonawanda.
Piano teacher Debbie Bastian of Grand Island also is a worship leader at New Covenant Church in Tonawanda.

Zoom piano lessons strike a new chord

Tue, Feb 9th 2021 03:10 pm

GI piano teacher Debbie Bastian adapts to COVID realities

By Karen Carr Keefe

Erie County Editor

Grand Island piano teacher Debbie Bastian is adding Zoom to her music repertoire.

Like many educators, she has had to adapt her teaching methods to the realities of the pandemic.

“It’s been good for the season that we’re in. It is an OK alternative for some, it’s a good alternative for others and it’s a very challenging alternative for some,” she said.

In mid-January, Bastian was teaching Hugh Mathieson, the oldest of three kids in his family who all take lessons from her. It was the Beatles tune, “Imagine,” and Hugh wasn’t immediately familiar with it, but he was quite familiar with Zoom. He rearranged his set-up to improve the camera angle, and felt right at home – in fact, he was right at home.

But it’s not a breeze for everyone. “Some of the kids are really struggling with it because they’re more visual learners and this is proving, for them, harder,” she said.

“It’s great for the parents that needed me to do this. And they were the ones who came to me and said, ‘Can you do this?’” Her response: “Oh, yeah – I can.”

Bastian is a worship leader at New Covenant Church in Tonawanda, where her son, Joshua, is music director and her daughter, Sarah, is a former music director. She and her husband, Scott, have a third, grown child, Hannah.

“We had Zoom meetings over at church. … That started it and then one of my students said can you do this, because this is what we’re doing for school – and I said, ‘I’ve got a Zoom account. ’”

“The kids that already know what they’re doing, it’s working great. The students that are newer, honestly, I’m finding that it’s more challenging for the kids that already have attention challenges,” she said.

“If I tell them something verbally, the audio learners are just having a hard time with it,” she said. “If they’re comfortable, I try to go to their house once a month.” She also plans to have the students, who are comfortable with it, come to her house on Grand Island.

She currently has about 20 students, with half of them virtual and half are in-person for the lessons. She does the lessons back-to-back, every half-hour, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays afternoons.

Bastian also teaches on Tuesdays in-person at Strong Academy, a private school in downtown Buffalo. “They went from 23 to 50 or 60 students because of this – all the private schools became very popular.”

Most of her students are in elementary school and are not advanced students. She teaches classical piano training, primarily from the Alfred Basic Piano Library. For older students, some are into “Hamilton” classic oldies. But because of her being a worship leader, she teaches them the chord approach and they are singing to it.

“I always make them start with a book, like the adults,” and teaches the classical approach from the adult book. “When we get to a certain point where they can learn how to do triads, then I’ll start teaching them how to do chords and teach them different inversions.” She said it’s a variety, depending on the student. Zoom or in person, she says she can always tell if her student has practiced – or not.

On June 15, she even held a student piano recital over Zoom. She printed out a program, filled treat bags and delivered them to her students’ houses the day before to create a celebratory atmosphere. “We all did Zoom together, so you could have as many people that wanted to come, on my account.

She said she had two students that were super-nervous. “I’m like, ‘Why are you nervous, there’s nobody in front of you.’ ”

 It worked out really great,” she said. “Everybody dressed up fancy. It was a regular recital. It was really cool.”

For more information, call Debbie Bastian at 716-773-9175.

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