Durham music program virtually connects kids amid coronavirus

This file photo from the Durham VOICE shows how pre-Covid-19 era practices were very much in-person. Now, Kidznotes has transitioned into remote lessons. (Staff photo by Landon Bost)

Despite school closures and government-issued stay-at-home orders, the Durham Kidznotes program is working to make sure their students and teachers can continue learning and teaching music in a virtual setting.

“It’s been a really interesting and honestly kind of invigorating time for Kidznotes,” Nick Malinowski, the executive director of Kidznotes, said.

The program, which partners with seven local public schools and serves nearly 300 students, was forced to adjust to a “mandatory separation” of teachers and students due to COVID-19. These restrictions included the cancellation of all live public performances through the end of April.

Although in-person meetings are prohibited, Kidznotes wasted no time putting together an online program that allows students and teachers to continue classes in a comprehensive distance-learning system.

“Our program team really took the lead on creating a robust online platform where kids can have individual lessons, work on new music, and be connected with each other,” Malinowski said. “It’s been really inspiring to see.”

In a learning community that prides itself on bridging the education gap between students of different socio-economic backgrounds, just creating the platform was not enough. Kidznotes reached out to each family in the program to discuss their internet access and what they needed to make the classes work for them.

All Kidznotes employees are still working the same number of hours and receiving the same pay.

“Kidznotes is not just a music program,” Malinowski said. “We’re really a movement of music for social change. That means reacting to whatever needs our families have and trying to be an organization that can provide for them in those times.”

The program uses the Durham public schools they partner with as channels to provide resources to students who need them. Malinowski says Kidznotes also encourages its members to utilize the Digital Inclusion Project, a program that provides access to local and national internet providers at a little-to-no price.

Kidznotes is still rolling out the online platform, but Malinowski says that it will be ready by the end of the week. Many students have already started taking advantage of the online lessons.

The biggest challenge Kidznotes faces with these restrictions is the face-to-face interaction that makes their musical performance special. The program is working on ways to make seamless teacher-student interactions and platforms where performance can happen virtually.

“The heart of what Kidznotes does is ensemble performance – performing music together,” Malinowski said. “That’s really difficult to do online, but we are going to be figuring out how we let our musicians and our teaching artists share the gift of music virtually.”

The continuation of community-driven organizations like Kidznotes keeps people together in these unprecedented times. The program aims to provide a valuable service to the Durham community.

“Music is really a powerful tool during times of uncertainty,” Malinowski said, “and people need it now more than ever.”