Twice a week, Brock Miller, a fourth grader at Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood, sets up his cello in front of a laptop, logs into Skype and patiently waits for his virtual music lesson to begin.
On the other end, a Howard County high school student is preparing to teach. The pair practices together for 30 minutes at a time, working on a musical piece of Brock’s choosing.
The lesson is one of the hundreds that have occurred over the past two months through the Do Re Mi Project, an online musical lesson platform created by Amy Hwang, a Glenelg High School sophomore.
“I like the experience of Do Re Mi,” said Brock, 10. “It has made me feel confident that at the end of coronavirus, I will be ready to go back to school and have everything practiced.”
Amy created the program well before all Maryland public schools were ordered closed through April 24 amid the coronavirus health emergency.
The mission of the Do Re Mi Project is to provide free online music tutoring to Howard County elementary and middle school students. The lessons are provided by Howard County high schoolers.
Amy, 15, a flutist, created the website to reach as many younger students as possible to help them practice music without needing to worry about transportation or a price tag.
“It gives [the students] a greater appreciation for their instruments. From my own experience, the more you get better at something, the more you like it,” Amy said.
The lessons can also boost the students’ appreciation for classical music and help them gain life skills, such as confidence and perseverance, Amy added.
Since the February kickoff, 46 students have joined Do Re Mi and more than 100 virtual lessons have been scheduled, including repeat students. There are currently 26 tutors.
All lessons are conducted through various online video platforms, including Skype, Zoom and FaceTime. Each tutor posts their availability online, where students can easily sign up.
Before the initial lessons, tutors reach out to students to learn about their music experience; the students will send over musical pieces they are working on. From there, tutors and students work through their pieces together. At the end of each lesson, tutors send a feedback email, filled with words of encouragement and things for the student to work on before the next lesson.
Milana Gurvich, 15, a Glenelg High sophomore, teaches piano for Do Re Mi.
“I just love playing the piano. It’s just something that has always been a part of me,” Milana said.
As one of the first students to become a tutor, Milana has enjoyed hearing her students improve from lesson to lesson and she “love[s] talking to them.”
Milana also thinks being close in age to the students makes the experience that much more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Neil Rebello, a third grader at Ilchester Elementary School in Ellicott City, is one of Milana’s students. Neil, 9, also takes cello lessons through Do Re Mi.
“If I get something wrong, [Milana] encourages me to keep trying until I get it right, and she sends great emails that have a lot of feedback, especially with the pieces that I really need to work on,” said Neil, who also plays guitar.
Priya Rebello, Neil’s mother, is highly impressed with the tutors’ feedback.
“They are so good at sending a follow-up email. I am just speechless. They are so detailed — it’s amazing,” Rebello said.
Taking lessons through Do Re Mi is fun, Neil said. “I like it and all of the tutors are very good. I always look forward to the classes.”
Centennial High freshman Billy Allen has been passionate about playing the trumpet since he was young. Billy, 15, aspires to have a career in music, whether that means becoming a professional musician or a teacher.
Billy, who looks forward to his students improving each lesson, said, “I think [the lessons give] them something to work for” while school isn’t in session.
“Something really cool [about Do Re Mi] is that it’s free, so it gives kids from lower-income families an opportunity to have private lessons. … It also helps kids who might not be able to get transportation to lessons still receive a lesson,” Billy said.
Currently, lessons are available for the flute, oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet, trombone, French horn, piano, double bass, guitar, violin, viola and cello.
To become a tutor, interested high school students must be taking private lessons and can submit a form online. Amy has recruited tutors from social media and by emailing county music teachers to get the word out.
“Right now, the balance is working out well. Each tutor has [at least one] student,” Amy said.
Amy wants to expand the program, making it a “365-day operation” and expanding it into other counties, states and maybe even internationally.
Once Howard schools closed, Brianne Miller, Brock’s mother, began looking for opportunities for her son to continue his cello lessons despite not practicing twice a week during the school day.
Miller emailed Judson Deitrich, Bushy Park’s strings teacher, and was directed to the Do Re Mi Project.
Within an hour of sending an email of interest, Brock was assigned a tutor and had his first lesson that same day.
“Even if school was in effect, this is an opportunity for extra practicing or if you want to get stronger, it gives that chance to work more and practice,” Miller said.
Brock said he enjoys receiving feedback; it makes “me look forward to each practice.”
Miller said she appreciates the high school tutors.
“This is a group of kids who are totally giving back to their community right now,” Miller said. “I am so thankful for them.”
Interested elementary and middle school students can sign up for a free lesson at doremiproject.org.