Bay Area nonprofit music school finds creative solution to keep beat going amid pandemic

ALBANY, Calif. (KGO) -- During the COVID-19 pandemic, all non-essential businesses were forced to shut their doors indefinitely.

Blue Bear School of Music closed their doors mid-March of 2020 and had to cancel all future in-person music lessons and programs to students.

Within a week, Blue Bear School of Music had to shift 40 music instructors to online music lessons.

"The most recent evolution and pivot with the pandemic was the most dramatic ever for the school," said Steve Savage, executive director of Blue Bear School of Music. "We have to be creative and figure out how we can provide programs in this environment."

Blue Bear School of Music is a nonprofit providing music lessons to children, adults and outreach programs to underserved neighborhoods in the Bay Area.

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"The greatest benefit to playing music is the joy of playing music and it is a wonderful thing to have in one's life. Our goal is to make music education as accessible for as many people as possible," said Savage. "We provide all different kinds of lessons from private lessons and group lessons, and a huge variety of music education for all different age groups."

The nonprofit is known to be the first school of rock and offers a number of music lessons to students of all ages.

The school was founded in 1971 by a group of band members who wanted to teach music while waiting to make it big in the music industry.

"It has been a spectacular journey," said Savage. "I joined the band that started the school and our idea was to start this little music school to help us make a living until the band became famous. Couple years later, the band wasn't going anywhere and the school was growing and we realized the school was a better idea than the band. That has been the story for 50 years."

The nonprofit has faced a number of technical challenges, but was determined to find a solution.

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"One of the things about music lessons is you're often times playing at the same time as your teacher and that doesn't work online," said Dennis Criteser, Program Director of Blue Bear School of Music. "We had to rediscover and develop new ways of working our systems that didn't involve being in the same room together."

Blue Bear also created an 'ON DEMAND' music lesson for students to learn at their own pace. Students are able to submit their progress to music instructors for feedback.

To better serve their Little Bears Program for infants and toddlers, the school offers socially distanced music classes in the park in the East Bay and San Francisco.

"In the Little Bears Program, a lot of parents have gotten in touch with me and said this is so important to our life right now," said Tennessee Mowrey, Little Bears Program Director at Blue Bear School of Music. "That's great to give people a spark of joy in the pandemic. Just anything to make them happier."

After seeing the popularity of outdoor music lessons, the school hopes to expand their classes online and outdoors in the future.

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"We have been very pleasantly surprised at how well private lessons work online," said Criteser. "In a way it will be one of the silver linings to this whole thing. Is figuring out a way to have expanded our model for lessons."

As the state of California begins reopening, students and instructors look forward to having in-person lessons once again.

For more information about Blue Bear School of Music, visit their website here.

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