By Coty Dolores Miranda, Ahwatukee Foothills Newspaper, April 29th, 2020
Music Maker Workshops, a family-owned and operated music school that opened their doors in Ahwatukee in 1997, has created an answer for those who are feeling any restlessness related to these home-bound times.
They applicably call it Community Cabin Fever Busters.
The online classes, free to the public, vary weekly and range from sing-alongs for elementary-aged students and preschool storytimes to music workshops like a recent ‘How to Play Spoons’ led by instructor David Libman.
Like many small businesses, Music Maker Workshops was unprepared for the March 20 Governor’s declaration that he termed his "Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected" order.
Yet Music Maker Workshops was quick to react, closing the doors on their 4,000 square foot, 16-classroom studio at 3233 E. Chandler Blvd.
But they weren’t about to abandon their 589 music students.
They opted to conduct virtual music lessons.
“With the stay-at-home orders, we knew that the new normal was quickly changing, and as a business, we needed to pivot rapidly to help families stay home and stay safe. So within 24 hours we switched all our in-studio lessons to virtual lessons using the platform Zoom,” said Shelly Yakubow, co-director of Music Makers Workshop with her sister Kim Steedman.
Yet the directors and staff weren’t without trepidations.
“The truth is we were very nervous. We didn't know how families would respond. We contacted them with their Zoom login information and held our breath. Then it happened; the ding on the computer screens started dinging and the students were logging in for their lessons. We were so excited; It was working. These bright-eyed students were greeting us from the safety of their homes.”
Yakubow admitted there were start-up issues like audio controls and learning how best to engage students virtually.
“But we adapted quickly, and each week our instructors started sharing with the team what worked, what didn't, and what new apps helped to teach various concepts,” she said.
Yakubow, who resides in Chandler, and her sister Steedman of Ahwatukee co-direct Music Makers Workshop, the 23-year-old music studio founded by their mother, Beverly Bigam. A nurse by trade, Bigam was an accomplished pianist, and upon moving to Arizona from British Columbia in 1997, she ascertained she wanted to open a studio.
“Her vision was to have a place where adults and children could learn music all under one roof,” said Steedman.
In 2000, after earning her bachelor's degree in education, Yakubow joined her mother teaching music. Five years later Steedman left her full-time nursing career to also be a part of MMW, concentrating on directing the Kindermusik (cq) program and co-directing the family business.
Beverly Bigam, who resides in Sun Lakes with her husband of 51 years, Larry Bigam, retired in 2015 but still teaches adult piano once weekly.
In the ensuing years, MMW has branched out from piano only to offering lessons in a variety of instruments - guitar, ukelele, saxophone, drum/percussion, clarinet and flute and more in addition to voice lessons and song writing.
They have a staff of 32 mostly part-time instructors, and since the stay-at-home order, say they've “been blessed” that many of their music students have opted to continue via virtual lessons.
“We've been able to retain, to-date, approximately 80% of our student body. We’re so thankful for the students that continue during COVID-19. We’re so thankful for the parents who’ve been sending messages of gratitude for their teachers who not only provide appropriate instruction but encouragement, motivation and bring joy to music-making,” said Yakubow. “Parents are so happy their children have a creative outlet during these unprecedented times. On our social media, students started posting their music, sharing their accomplishments, and so many of them haven't missed a beat with the virtual option.”
Among those students continuing their lessons online is Amanda Waxberg, an Horizon Honors High School sophomore who is a violinist, though for the past five years, she played flute and piccolo in the Horizon band.
“Even with everything going on in the world today, lessons with my online violin teacher have been one of the things I look forward to every week,” the 16-year-old said. “Since I have so much more time on my hands, I've been able to practice violin for almost an hour every other day, which is a lot more time than I usually get since I'm so busy with homework and other extracurriculars.”
“One of my favorite things about taking violin lessons online is that I can still be pushed to do my best and to work my hardest,” Waxberg continued. “I'm so grateful my teacher is still able and willing to work with me and that Music Makers is working to make sure that we all get the help and encouragement that we need to get better during these difficult times.”
Her father, David Waxberg, said he appreciates how the virtual lessons have kept his daughter focused on music “throughout a challenging time in our lives”.
“Amanda is self-motivated and would play regardless, but having that weekly touch-base has definitely helped maintain momentum,” said Waxberg, an Ahwatukee resident of 10 years.
“Additionally, this has been the first time I’ve been able to observe a lesson and I’ve really enjoyed hearing her take the feedback, interact with her instructor and make immediate improvements.”
Besides the regular schedule of music lessons, Music Makers Workshop set a new goal - to “turn COVID 19 into the most positive defining experience of the studio”.
“ We brainstormed on how can we provide music relief to the families during this time of home isolation. Kids were bored, parents were overwhelmed trying to balance work and home obligations; so, in addition to weekly lessons, what could we do for these families?” revealed Yakubow.
“A team of instructors put together a variety of free workshops for kids and teens. These workshops were designed to be easy enough that anyone could attend. And to be unique and different. So we had Synth 101, Music Production, Drummin' Around the House, Story time and Sing-alongs,” said Steedman.
“We wanted to be a beacon of light in a dark time,” interjected Yakubow.
She said the first few weeks the free classes were filled to capacity.
“Then, we found out that many of the school-aged children started getting their own school assignments and were swamped. So currently, we provide Community Cabin Fever Busters mainly to preschool-aged children who really need activities to do,” said Yakubow.
The wide-ranging Cabin Fever Buster classes and regular class times are injected with a dose of levity by the offering of weekly contests like the April 22 through 24th ‘Creative Hat Contest’ with participants encouragd to photograph and post themselves online wearing their hats.
One of the initial and best attended Cabin Fever Busters was a “How to Play Spoons” segment taught by David Libman, a MMW percussion teacher and professional valley musician.
“Spoons are not something I play all the time, I learned to play them for fun, and people do tend to get a kick out of it because you don’t see it often. The kids and parents really seemed to love the novelty of it. Actually it's a great instrument because you can literally play them anywhere,” said Libman, an Arizona native who lives only a few miles from where he grew up in Mesa.
“I even had some adults playing along and got some great feedback from everyone, saidLibman who’s taught at MMW for six years. “This was my first time teaching spoons, so it was a little intimidating, but I may do another one in the future.”
Music Maker Workshops full-day and half-day Summer Camps remain in limbo. All June camps were cancelled, but reservations for July are still open. Yakubow said, like so many other businesses, they are waiting to see what the future holds.
No matter the future brings, there are positive lessons to be gleaned said the sisters.
“This experience has helped us to improve and grow and I believe we'll continue to use virtual options in the future when we reopen studio classrooms,” said Yakubow.
“The convenience of at-home lessons are an excellent option for busy parents or when a student is feeling sick. I know that COVID-19 will not break us and we'll use this experience to learn how we can serve our students better.”
She said she’s also fielding more inquiries from adults who find they now have more time to try a new instrument or enroll in voice or music production classes.
For more information on Community Cabin Fever Busters and adult and children music lessons.