Lloyd English and his wife Diane English are more than just familiar figures in the Greater Victoria music scene. They have been teaching in the Sidney area since 1987. Along the way, they have shaped countless lives, fostering musical careers and a general love for the language of music along the way.
“One of our teachers actually took lessons with me, when he was about 14 or 15 years old,” said Lloyd.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has added another chapter to the history of their teaching careers – and not in a good way.
“It’s hit the music community like an atomic bomb, and that doesn’t mean locally, that means across North America. Everybody is trying to figure ‘what do we do? What’s next?’” he said.
For the pair, the pandemic forced them to close the physical doors of their teaching business, the Peninsula Academy of Music Arts, and move it online after they had been teaching for 12 years out of a multi-purpose building on Mills Road in North Saanich.
Employing more than 20 staff (mostly music teachers), the school had some 350 students before the outbreak of the pandemic in mid-March forced them to close. They subsequently tried to move as many of their classes online as possible, with 100 to 120 students following them along.
“But we could see that during all of this, it started to become apparent that this was not going to be a short-term situation,” he said.
They paid their full lease in April, having used the building “for some 10 minutes,” but the immediate prospect of having to make another full lease payment in May coupled with other considerations eventually forced them to bring down the curtain on their physical business.
Those considerations included among others were the would-be costs of expanding studio space to meet health guidelines — “every square-foot is dollars,” Lloyd said — and health concerns. The school brings together students from every age group, including children and seniors, mixing them all together.
“Probably the largest risk group here isn’t the children, as much as it is the teachers, having to be in a small room and seeing six, eight, 10, 12 people in a day,” he said.
While the federal government has offered rent-relief support for small businesses, its actual terms, timing and scope were not sufficient, Lloyd said.
The program available would have seen the federal government pick up 50 per cent of their lease, with the rest of the lease split across the couple and their landlord. But it was not yet available when the couple needed it the most.
With the program not available and a “grossly diminished revenue stream,” Lloyd said they cut into their savings to keep the business afloat for a while before changing their delivery method.
“As far as the federal program is concerned, it’s far too little too late,” he said. “Plus, it put an additional onus on the landlord to come up with one-quarter of our lease, which he understandably, was not too thrilled about. The real problem existed with the federal government, in acting far too slowly and doing far too little.”
Ultimately, Lloyd is concerned about the long-term prospects for music education and music generally in face of public health regulations that impact music teachers, music venues and musicians.
Lloyd said one of his music teacher friends is planning to move music education outdoors by way of teaching marching band. Others are quitting playing and teaching altogether. Some music venues are foregoing crowds by offering virtual performances online, but the move online hardly enjoys unanimous support in the music community.
One of the couple’s students, for example, has decided to forego a scholarship because he cannot imagine doing his classes sitting in front of a computer for five or six hours a day. “It’s just wondering what he is going to do with his future right now,” Lloyd said.
It is a question many other musicians are also asking themselves.
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