Greetings from Kansas
The year 2020 has been a long, strange, sometimes frightening journey. The pandemic certainly threw a monkey wrench into our lives, but there are some bright spots.
I have been working from home since March 12th. The University has been teaching in a hybrid mode, with reduced classroom capacities and many, many more online classes. Budget cuts at the state level, combined with reduced enrollments and loss of fees with increased online (i.e., no in person facilities fees etc.) forced the University to employ both emergency and administrative furloughs. I was extremely fortunate to not receive any kind of furlough.
In March, Sibylle switched to remote teaching only. Trying to teach piano over Zoom, or any video chat service is just about impossible. Latency, audio compression, and video artifacts are extremely frustrating when you are trying to teach nuance and subtle techniques. Piano is a hands on experience that doesn’t translate well to the virtual world. At the end of May Sibylle switched back to in person lessons for those who wanted “normal” lessons again. Masks were worn, the pianos were more than 6’ apart, two HEPA filters ran continuously, and there was very limited physical contact.
I continue to study the cello. Between national events and the pandemic, stress at work, and general unease at world events, my practicing has at times been barely focused. I picked up a Mandolin a year and a half ago, and enjoy exploring what I can play on it. Mandolins share the same tuning as violins (strings separated by 5ths), so it has proven to be relatively easy to pick up and play.
As the number of cases continued to grow in the late summer and autumn, Sibylle decided to stop in person lessons until after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. She and her students exchange videos, and Sibylle provides worksheets and email assignments / critiques.
In spite of the many restrictions remote teaching imposed this year, one of Sibylle’s students, Aiden, placed first at the State Honors Auditions in November. The auditions were completely remote—meaning Aiden and Sibylle had to make and submit two videos, adding technical complexity to the already demanding preparation of the music.
Both Sibylle and I like that I am able to work from home. My fears that missing the daily contact with colleagues would be onerous proved to be unfounded. Both the University at large, and IT leadership in specific, have been impressed with the professionalism and with the accomplishments achieved this year. All of University staff were given the four days between Christmas and New Year’s Day as paid time off.
Sibylle’s sons, Jonathan and Chris, are both healthy. Jonathan works in the Emporia hospital. He does have direct contact with COVID-19 patients, so he has not traveled, not even to see us, since March. His plans to go to New Zealand in August were canceled due to pandemic restrictions.
Chris is in the Navy as a part of the crew of the Rhode Island. In February, while playing softball, he broke his leg. The break was severe enough to require pins and screws. He has completed the post-op physical therapy and has rejoined his crew full time again. He will be underway the first quarter of 2021 and then will transfer to shore duty in Connecticut over the summer.
We are cautiously hopeful for the new year. With vaccines on the horizon there is a chance that schools, both pre-college and college, will be able to have regular classes starting in August 2021. Sibylle would welcome a return to normal piano lessons. I hope that remote working, even part of the week, will be an option going forward.
We have been extremely fortunate, privileged even, that none of our family or loved ones have gotten sick. We hope that you and your families have been as fortunate.
We wish you and your families, friends, and loved ones a merry, and peaceful Christmas and a joyous New Year!