When the news hit that Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was closing schools in response to COVID-19, band director and longtime music educator, Billy Coane, wasn’t sure what to expect.
“It was a Friday when the Superintendent announced the closures and it was sudden,” Billy recalls. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Oh gee, what’s going to happen now?”
It wasn’t long before Billy and the rest of the state of California got their answer -- “distance learning” would become the new normal and the classes Billy taught for both LAUSD and GITC would move online. And while this transition would prove challenging for many teachers, Billy didn’t miss a beat. He was already familiar with Zoom, having spent the past year taking classes online, pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Administration. He knew how all the bells and whistles worked, so much so that he was already mentoring other LAUSD teachers on how to use the platform creatively and successfully.
Billy has been a GITC faculty trainer for 6 years. He has trained hundreds of teachers in LA Unified in GITC’s developmental approach in afterschool Professional Development classes supported by Guitar Center’s community giving and the NAMM Foundation.
This year before COVID-19 necessitated sheltering at home, Billy was training teachers in free GITC courses at both Morningside Elementary and Vista Del Valle Dual Language Academy in San Fernando. Fast forward to May 2020 and Billy now finds himself with a very busy online working schedule, and one that has become a family affair. He is quarantined with his wife, Andrea, also a teacher, and his two children -- William, age seven and a half, and Elise, age five -- as well as an armory of instruments he has collected over years of teaching band and orchestra.
“When I teach my LAUSD music education classes online, I’ll have my wife Andrea sit with me and run participant management, because I can have three to four full classes at a time, which is upwards of 70 something kids learning vocal music at once!” Billy explains.
Andrea and the kids also sit in on GITC classes, which the whole family enjoys. “I taught six classes in person before the closures. Now we’re teaching GITC online and I have teachers from all over the district and beyond!” says Billy. “The other day I even had one from Santa Fe and one from Kansas!”
On Fridays, Billy also teaches a group for GITC online with SAGE, the Social and Gender Equity Magnet at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, California. SAGE’s innovative curriculum focuses on gender and social issues woven into traditional classes, and many students choose to be in this school to receive their education in a safe, bully-free and creative environment. GITC Executive Director, Jessica Baron, co-teaches the class, leading beginning ukulele and singing with less experienced students, while Billy takes the more advanced players.
“We’re working on three songs and it’s going slowly but surely,” explains Billy. “A couple of the kids are still feeling shy but most are coming out of their shells, participating, and learning together. We wanted to prepare for an online performance but it’s challenging because there are latency issues with Zoom and there’s no way to get synced up together.” Instead SAGE students will begin recording their own parts at home and when they are all submitted, GITC staff will sync the recordings and edit them together to create a virtual choir style performance.
This class is being taught on a special grant from the Rosenthal Family Foundation and serves as a pilot program for highly qualified GITC teaching artists who wish to take on thematically focused work with older students. This is the second pilot GITC launched this school year; the first was a supportive and individualized program for teens at John Hope Continuation High School aimed at improving student grades and supporting on-time graduation. It was taught by GITC teaching artist Scott Detweiler. This important work has been given a big vote of confidence this month by the California Arts Council. GITC’s work in continuation high schools in LA Unified will continue to expand when schools resume in 2020-2021, as will Billy’s role training teachers after school.
And as if he wasn’t already busy enough, Billy is also working with his own young children during this quarantine time to build their musical skills. “I’m teaching my son and daughter a lot of ukulele and piano,” he explains. “And my son also plays violin and recorder. The only thing he’s not playing right now is brass.” Both children are passionate about music like their dad, and look forward to sharing their musical abilities with the big kids at SAGE online. Something tells us that when we follow up with Billy again in a few months, William will be an expert on French Horn and Elise might be setting her sights on Carnegie Hall! If the Coane Family has taught us anything, it’s that music education is a family affair.
Find Billy Online:
Billy Coane Official Website
Billy Coane Official YouTube