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FEATURE | Clavier Class Teaches Kids Music Appreciation Through The Keyboard — And A Social Conscience

By Hye Won Cecilia Lee on June 23, 2020

Image by Remaztered Studio from Pixabay

Summer is a great time for children to try out new things, along with making new friends. However, this year, with the pandemic and the consequent lockdown, things changed drastically and abruptly, and many children lost an integral part of life as they’ve ever known it — including daily contact with friends and teachers. With such uncertainty for the summer, young educators Edmee Nataprawira and Pauline Feng are bringing summer learning home to children through a new program called Clavier Class, an online music appreciation course about keyboard instruments across history, musicians, different genres and much more from harpsichord to piano, from accordion to synthesizer.

“Before COVID-19, Pauline and I were planning a low-cost summer choir in the light of cuts to public music education,” says Edmee. Edmee and Pauline first met at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto in 2012 as Music Education Majors, and became great friends in addition to sharing classes, and working at summer camps. Their first independent education collaboration took place in summer 2016, ‘Summer, Sun and Singing!’ an open-choral program for children ages 6-14 of all levels, free of charge.

For these young yet experienced educators, musical inspiration started early and close. “I started tutoring and teaching piano lessons to young children at age of 14,” says Pauline. “I always knew that I loved helping others learn, and becoming a music educator was a choice I made to pursue my passion!” As a young child, Pauline grew up watching her older brother playing piano, so at age 5, she started piano herself, and by age 10, she was accompanying at her school programs. Edmee also remembers her older sister and brother playing music in the living room. “As the youngest, I idolized them and wanted to be part of everything they did.” She started her lessons around age 3-4.

They graduated from CTEP (Class of 2017) together in the Concurrent Teacher’s Education Program; Edmee is qualified to teach English and Music, and Pauline in French and Music. Pauline, after teaching French at high school for two years, pursued a career change, but along with her new career as a full-time corporate concierge, she is still heavily involved in private teaching and the tutoring program, Songs and Studies.

Pauline Feng and Edmee Nataprawira (Photo: Gabrielle Nguyen)

Edmee is currently teaching in St. Clement’s School, Toronto, and couldn’t be happier. “As a child, my school’s music room was my second home. It was there that I tasted safety, community, courage, self-expression, and great joy. I don’t think I would be here today — at least not as the same person — if not for the genuine kindness, love, mentorship, and dry wit that my teachers showed me when I needed it most.” She also conducts the youngest division of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church’s Choir School, Cherub Choir, for kids from kindergarten to Grade 4.

With swift changes to all future plans with COVID-19, their initial plan for a 2020 free or low-cost summer children’s choir has morphed into an at-home online class focusing on the exploration of piano — one of the most iconic instruments. “We were brainstorming ideas for an engaging and accessible summer music program that we could both be excited about,” says Pauline. “It morphed from a music and movement class, into a musical instrument appreciation class, and eventually became a keyboard instrument exploration class.”

In addition to cuts in public education funding, Edmee and Pauline felt strongly that they should introduce two additional current issues into CC’s program focus: global pandemic and racism in both the United States and Canada. “These issues — anti-Black racial violence and injustice, poverty, and food insecurity — have existed for a very long time. Having not personally experienced them, Pauline and I both have incredible privilege. As such, we also feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to some change in whatever little we can,” says Edmee.

Edmee explains the focus of the course in an email. “I am delighted to be co-creating Clavier Class, an online summer music course for kids ages 11-14, with my friend and fellow music educator, Pauline Feng. We’ll explore history, musicians, genres, and more… all through the lens of keyboard instruments — from the harpsichord to the piano to the synthesizer. We’d love to support Canadian organizations doing important, hard work, so the entirety of our ‘fee’ is a suggested donation directly to 1 of 4 organizations supporting food security, frontline workers, Black communities, and marginalized voices in the Arts: Churches-on-the-Hill Food Bank, Frontline Fund, Black Lives Matter, and Nia Centre for Arts.”

Edmee Nataprawira (Photo: Danielle Reesor)

To enroll, participants are asked to send suggested donation of $50 directly to the chosen organizations. Though they have not had direct communication with these organizations (beside their own personal donations), Edmee and Pauline are hoping their initiative will redirect funds to organizations doing important work right here at home, and to give element of choice and agency to interested families; in addition, this format will also allow families to receive tax receipts for the donation. Wanting to keep the classes accessible, they set the total suggested ‘fee’ of $50, equivalent to less than $10 per class. “Everyone’s circumstances are different in the best of times, and certainly even more so during a pandemic. I don’t feel that anyone should be turned away if $50 is too much, and I also hope that those who are able to give more, do… every penny will help,” says Edmee and Pauline.

Anna Rutledge is enrolling her daughter, Emma, and she chose Clavier Class to give Emma an additional enrichment after camps were cancelled. Emma is currently finishing off this school year online, and she, like many of us, has had a very challenging spring. “My teacher’s transition to online learning was very slow and the process did not work well for me. I do not like the online model and am looking forward to return to in-person learning,” says Emma. She misses her friends the most, but she also misses the direct and immediate interaction with teachers, which helps her to better understand the materials.

Anna chose Clavier Class hoping to provide some structure and joy during this very difficult summer. As a musician herself, (she holds a doctoral degree in musicology), music is a very important part of family life. “Our kids are all in choirs and their father and I grew up with music as a central part of our lives. And (Clavier Class) seemed like a great way to maintain a connection with a teacher she loves, while donating to a cause that is close to our hearts,” says Anna. They are donating to the COTH food bank, as an addition to their regular food donation in this time of need.

Emma currently sings and plays the French horn, and got to know Edmee through TEMC. “I like making music with people, and working like a team to get better. I am interested to see how Ms. Edmee will structure the class — I hope she will make it fun, like choir!” says Emma. Edmee’s experience through Cherub Choir echoes Emma’s feeling. “Teaching the Cherub Choir at TEMC is an absolute joy! These kids are vibrant, hilarious, kind and always ready to sing. We keep each other on our toes, learn great musical skills, and have a lot of fun every week.”

Though the Cherub Choir children are bit young for the Clavier Class, having this multi-level experience gives Edmee and Pauline a definite edge in leading the new Clavier Class participants, where both parties will experience and face new challenges — especially with open enrolment format (as CC is geared towards all intermediate music students, with or without previous experience with the piano). There also will be a few guest musicians throughout the program to give participants a closer look at keyboard instruments that they may have yet to encounter, like the harpsichord (Adam Weinmann) and the accordion (Lili Ahopelto). The guest sessions will include a short performance followed by a Q&A. Both confirmed guests are also established pianists, making them ideal candidates to compare-and-contrast for the students, including a virtual show-and-tell of their instruments.

“We would love this class to have the feeling of a small community, where each student’s voice is heard, and they can share ideas. Our plan is to have a homework assignment and give each student at least one opportunity to present to the group. We want each person bringing to the table their own ideas, and how they connect course content with their own interests.”


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