Play Us Forward [Homeward]

We asked our Play Us Forward instructors Lane Champa and Karen Koger to share their reflections on the past 2020-21 virtual school year:

Start Meeting.

I open the meeting link and watch as the participants list slowly lengthens down the window. Phew! We have students! I admit each, greet them, and ask them about their day.

“My family is moving so I’m with my Grandma and don’t have my violin, but I’ll just listen today.”

“Well, my momma and daddy have Covid so sorry if I can’t be prepared for your class.”

“Guess what?! I didn’t play the D scale once this morning. Two times!”

“Mr. C. I think my A string is broken? It’s just there rattling around, see!” A girl with a pink shirt, seated by a dog twice her size, holds her violin close to the camera.

I respond to each in turn:

          No worries, make sure you have it next time.

          I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope they are safe and well soon and let me know if you need any extra support in class.

          WOW! Excellent job! Do you want to perform your scale in class today?

          Yeah…that’s very broken. But that happens sometimes! I’ll chat with Ms. Ann about finding a time to help you fix it.

Then we tune. Except the first student has no violin. The second student leaves her desk to talk to someone in the hall. The fourth student has no A string and has gone back to petting the dog.

But the third student can tune. So, we go from there.

We review our goals for the week: Practice your D scale and apply the same finger pattern to G and A scales. Begin the first three sections of Scampering Squirrels. Submit your discussion response for Question of the Week.

We rehearse the music. Sometimes students perform to get feedback from me and their peers, sometimes the students mute so they can all play along with me. The only student with a working violin plays the first line. Then I ask the other two to lead the class in counting and clapping it aloud. They’re sounding really good!

The rhythms are making more sense for them this week and note reading is much smoother. The girl with the dog laughs and counts measure seven in a Muppet voice. The student with a violin performs the line again and the other two count along with them. Finally, the second student returns from the hallway and says she has to leave class early.

“HI, MR. C!”

A student enters the Zoom class. I haven’t seen her in class in three weeks. “Mr. C, what was the Question of the Week again?”

Hey, Tia. (I respond in direct message. I’m still leading the other students in their counting and rhythm repetition.) It was “What can you learn about someone from the music they create?”

She responds aloud, “OH, I know that! What you learn about someone in their music is what happens in their life. What they feel or what happened to their friend or family.” She pauses and so does the rest of the class. “Okay, well I gotta go now. Tell me the assignment later, Mr. C!”

I thank her for her answer. I’ll see you Thursday!

I look at the clock. Class time is over. If you all have any questions, send me a message and we can set up time to answer them. I’ll see you all on Thursday. Have a great week! 

End Meeting.


The musical progress Play Us Forward (PUF) students accomplished this year far surpassed our expectations. Despite the difficulty of communication, attendance, access to class materials, and scheduling online, we had a unique opportunity to connect to students in new ways. Teaching music on Zoom, we glimpsed the chaos many students dealt with at home. But we also saw their creativity firsthand. The artwork on their bedroom walls, the way they joked with their siblings, the way they reacted to learning their first instrument, miles away from their teacher. The creativity wasn’t new, they’ve developed those skills their entire lives, yet we had not seen it so clearly until now.

For many introverted students and students who feel the pressure of in-class learning, PUF was a chance to excel and connect in ways they had never before. For students with difficult home lives, this was a chance to take a deep breath and enjoy something. When the schools made the switch to hybrid learning, their schedules, and ours, went up in the air. We lost many of the connection points we had worked hard to build and many students were no longer able to continue the program.

Despite this, the remaining students finished the year strong, giving a brilliant final concert and receiving a standing ovation from the entire ProMusica audience in June. They also recorded music for their final projects and performed alongside their classmates virtually throughout the year with the fabulous technical help of our PUF Assistant, Xin Su, and PUF Program Director, Ann Kriewall.

While it is easy to depict the progress of these students throughout the year as a great tale of overcoming adversity, this is by no means the first or last time many of these students will overcome obstacles to receive education. For students of color, students in poverty, students who are immigrants, and LGBTQ+ students, this is the resilience life expects of them on a daily basis, pandemic or no. As their teachers, we were honored this year to help them explore their creativity, expand their critical thinking, and give them the safe space and deep breath we all need.

Many thanks to those who support our Play Us Forward program! 
Our School & Community Partners: United Schools Network, Graham Elementary and Middle School, and The Loft Violin Shop
Our Sponsors: Key Bank, Ohio Arts Council, The Ingram White Castle Foundation, and The Hattie and Robert Lazarus Fund
With additional support from: CoverMyMeds, Rettig Music, Puffin Foundation West Ltd., Irvin Public Relations, and North Shore Music Alliance