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January 21, 2021

CIM’s Preparatory Community Beats the Odds: Prep Music Plays On


Children’s Choir
Virtual Children’s Choir with conductor Jennifer Call.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shook the music world to its core. The Cleveland Institute of Music’s Preparatory Division, which focuses primarily on K-12 music training with lessons, classes and ensembles, was forced to reimagine how to continue delivering high level music instruction that represents CIM’s venerable reputation.

CIM Prep faculty worked diligently to protect their students’ experiences – meeting the challenge with extraordinary creativity. They quickly and elegantly shifted to transform the way they teach and work, with surprising success.

“There are now new programs, mentorship initiatives, alumni engagement and partnerships that have been formed both internally and externally,” says Preparatory Executive Director Jerrod Price.

CIM’s commitment to its students was evident when 80% of students re-enrolled for virtual lessons. Faculty remained committed to their students, and students remained committed to high level music education. Prep parent Brian Whitmer reflects that “CIM has been such a blessing to our daughter Marta during this year of challenge. Music has always been part of [our] family and has been [an] incredible area of growth and outreach for Marta. We are grateful to CIM and her vocal teacher Jennifer Call for [their] commitment to music education to so many.” CIM students and families are the heartbeat of CIM Prep. In the face of unprecedented hardship, music study has proven to be both a relief and a welcome addition to students' new pandemic-friendly routine. 500 Prep students enrolled in lessons and/or classes for fall semester and parents have seen their children continue to refine and improve their technique through virtual lessons.

CIM Preparatory Ensembles resiliently returned in the fall with an inventive virtual curriculum that faculty could implement safely from home. The pandemic presented a considerable challenge in preserving the communal experience for ensemble students.

The passion of our music students cannot be underestimated: 300 students signed on to learning virtually in their ensembles in Fall 2020. After 16 weeks of virtual instruction, each ensemble produced a final video performance, which will be released soon for families to enjoy.

Donna Jelen, director of Preparatory Orchestra and String Sinfonia, says: “I really appreciated that CIM made the call to remain virtual for the whole fall semester. Not only did this decision take the guesswork out of planning, it turned out (in retrospect) to be a wise decision. I was also grateful that the health and safety of the CIM community was prioritized.”

Jelen continues to describe the unexpected benefits of a virtual orchestra curriculum: “My students have done a great job adapting to the new normal. When given the chance to reflect on the virtual orchestra experience, many students noted that they had to rely on their own skills to a much greater degree. They had to count harder and figure out more things themselves. They also noted that since they were turning in individual recordings and had nowhere to ‘hide,’ [so] they were more motivated to refine their playing.”

Pre-College, one of Prep’s most advanced programs, has adapted beautifully to a hybrid curriculum. The entire curriculum – including group theory classes, eurhythmics, secondary piano instruction, performance seminars and other opportunities to develop musicianship for middle school and high school musicians – was offered in dual modes of delivery, with options for both in-person and online-only instruction. Each course was adapted to the space available, the best delivery for the content and for maximum flexibility, prioritizing the safety of all students and faculty.

“Prep faculty have done a wonderful job adapting their teaching to a new hybrid environment,” says Program Director Johnnia Stigall. “With their creativity, optimism, resourcefulness and dedication to each student, the Pre-College program continues shaping young students into well-rounded musicians safely – both in-person or from the comfort of their own homes.”

As the world faces extraordinary challenges, CIM Prep’s faculty and students continue to rise to the occasion with grace and enthusiasm – a testament to the creativity and adaptability of musicians, and of CIM’s Prep community at large. “Community is ultimately a group of likeminded people, coming together to achieve a common purpose,” concludes Price. “CIM Prep is comprised of extraordinary people. By tapping into the collective inspiration that this community offers each of us, we keep the music alive and thriving.”