7 p.m.

Play it again, Sal


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Salvador Tait is perfecting his D-minor scale.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2020 (1122 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Salvador Tait is perfecting his D-minor scale.

Normally, the eight-year-old’s piano teacher, Madeline Hildebrand, would sit next to him, gently correcting his wrist placement or pointing to his music. But these are not normal times, and this is not a normal piano lesson.

Golden-hour sunlight streams into Hildebrand’s tiny second-floor porch, where she has set up her keyboard. Instead of sheet music, her red music stand houses an open laptop.

Salvador, meanwhile, is at home on the upright in his family’s living room. This evening’s lesson is taking place over Zoom.

The keyboard/porch set up is unusual, too. Hildebrand, 34, isn’t supposed to be in Winnipeg. Last September, she left her grand piano with a babysitter, said goodbye to her 30 piano students, and headed to New York to begin her first year of doctoral studies at Stony Brook University. She couldn’t have known that just a few months later, she’d be sent back home by a worldwide pandemic.

Piano instructor Madeline Hildebrand teaches a virtual class to Salvador Tait in her home. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Back in Winnipeg, Hildebrand’s own piano studies have migrated online. On Tuesday nights, she joins her peers, now scattered all over North America, for a Chopin Études intensive over Zoom. She’s been teaching undergrads, as well as some of the children she had to leave behind in Winnipeg — including Salvador. “It’s been really special,” she says of reconnecting with them.

Teaching another person how to play an instrument virtually hasn’t been without its challenges, Hildebrand says.

“There’s a bit of a novelty to this, you know? But I’m sure it’s wearing off for so many families and kids. I have a little one who… these are stressful times and she was having a down day. If it was one-on-one, we might sit at the piano and improvise. It’s really hard to not physically work off of them.”

Piano instructor Madeline Hildebrand teaches a virtual class to Salvador Tait in her home. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Salvador moves on from scales to eighth notes, which is a focus of tonight’s lesson. He’s rushing through the song he’s working on; the rhythm — two eighth notes followed by quarter note — isn’t in his fingers yet.

Hildebrand, with her smiling eyes and melodious voice, offers plenty of encouragement.

She draws out the notes on a whiteboard and holds it up to the laptop camera. Salvador successfully counts it out: “Ti-Ti, Ta, Ti-Ti, Ta,” bobbing his head to the beat he’s created.

“Does that sound familiar?” Hildebrand asks him with a sly smile. “Have we seen that rhythm today?”

And then, a breakthrough. “Oh!” Salvador exclaims, his eyes lighting up. He’s got it.

Jen Zoratti

Hildebrand has set up her keyboard in her home's tiny second-floor porch and communicates with students through her laptop propped up on a music stand. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)
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