Arts Education Month: Anthea Kreston (Violin ’93) on Learning Online

Recently Anthea Kreston (Violin ’93) was featured in the New York Times for coaching a young violin student via Skype during the initial period of coronavirus lockdown in China. The youngster is one of several students Anthea routinely teaches using video-chat platforms. This made us curious to learn more about how this avid educator teaches her online students.

How did you find students for online lessons?

I started to teach on Skype when I met a wonderful Indian violinist in Italy during a festival. She lives in an area of India which has very few, if any, Western violinists or instructors, and so she was essentially self-taught. We decided to try Skype lessons after this, and I slowly developed a new technique for teaching online. Other students came this way as well—people I met in parts of the world where the only way to continue our relationship was online. When I moved to Germany four years ago, some of my students in the U.S. decided to continue online lessons, and when we just moved back a couple of months ago, several students in Berlin have continued. It isn’t something I actively pursue, but for some situations it is perfect.

What are some of the unique challenges of teaching online—as opposed to being in the same room with a student—and how do you work around them?

Well, first of all you must have a good sense of humor, and be very well-organized in your setup. I use multiple stands, make sure my batteries are at max, have all of my materials ready to go, and stay close to my router.  We talk about the funny things that can happen, practice some “fake freeze” moves, and realize that freezing and reconnecting will be an occasional part of the relationship. I also make use of the camera—for both me and the student—for closeups, or being at a certain angle to get a closeup of the bow hand or bow angle. You can actually get much more detailed in some ways. And depending on the country, you have to find your perfect medium—WeChat, Google Hangouts, FaceTime—they all have advantages and disadvantages. It is also a great thing that the student can easily record the lesson—both sides of it—and re-watch.

What are the advantages, in your view? What kinds of assignments work especially well?

I like to take detailed notes and (send the student) an assignment graph, as well as scans of any new assignments. It’s easy to keep organized sharing documents, markings, and suggestions.  I often give detailed video assignments during the week, and I can send videos of myself doing a difficult shift, or whatnot. And each student has a little video library–from serious to fun assignments—that they can e-mail to family members far away.

You’ve recently gotten attention for giving daily lessons to a student under coronavirus lockdown in China, and challenging him to learn the notoriously difficult Symphonie Espagnole. How is his “Lalo boot camp” coming along?

It’s great. Kevin is now, after 7 weeks, back to school—although it is all remote learning for them now. He is still inside for at least a couple of more weeks. I stay in touch with his dad too. We are all the way through the concerto now. He is learning so fast now, and his ability to make decisions, both musical and technical, is greatly improved. He is finding his own voice more and more every day—teaching himself, in many ways. We have daily contact, and I get at least two videos a day from him. I showed him a sample spreadsheet, and he keeps detailed records of every day, every video, and our conversations about them. He has to articulate himself in writing. It’s a good challenge. In the meantime, Kevin and his father are giving us advice on how to prepare ourselves for possible COVID-19 ramifications—they are as concerned about us as we are about them. It’s a nice family to be a part of.

Anything else you’d like to say about teaching online?

It’s a lot of fun! You can decide to show the student around your house, or teach the lesson in a silly shirt. Sometimes I show them what I am making for dinner or what the weather is outside, or they meet our new guinea pig. We send each other our favorite recordings and say hello to each other’s families. My youngest daughter takes Facetime lessons with my oldest sister Aimee, who is also a Curtis grad. I feel so lucky to have that opportunity for her. And my sister and husband are volunteer teaching friends of Kevin‘s until they are back in school.

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