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For Savannah Music Festival educational programs, the show must go on — at home

ORDINARILY, the Savannah Music Festival would still be going on this week, with a full slate of live concerts.

Though the Festival itself was canceled due to COVID-19, two very important educational programs from the Savannah Music Festival are still going on.

“As our local students, teachers and families cope with sheltering in place, we’re focused on making sure that kids and families still have the opportunity to be musically creative,” says Jenny Woodruff, Savannah Music Festival Director of Education and Community Engagement.

“Our kids need music and art now more than ever.”  

The school offerings are the beloved Musical Explorers program, a district-wide K-2 program, and the SMF Jazz Academy, a new after-school program for fifth graders.

Both programs, of course, are confined to home environments with the district’s shelter-in-place protocol for the rest of the school year.

A variety of distance-learning solutions including digital lessons, instructional videos and activity books are being provided to participants, so they can keep the music going even while school is confined to home.

“We reached out to a lot of teachers, and teachers also reached out to us. We wanted to figure out what lessons they would feel comfortable teaching from their living rooms,” says Woodruff. “It was really important to us that we keep the programs going during this uncertain time.”

The new Jazz Academy, in particular, is primed for this kind of instruction since it was already an after-school program — albeit one originally intended to meet in-person, at Juliette Gordon Low Elementary School.

“That program now has 24 fifth-graders. They started in January with a Big Band. They played every day,” Woodruff says.

The Jazz Academy’s downloadable activity book features activities connected to three genres they are focused on this year: Salsa, Irish, and folk music.

“Continuity and regular exposure are essential when learning how to play an instrument,” says SMF Jazz Academy Manager Jessica Messere. “Through these efforts, we hope our students can continue building on what they’ve learned so far.”

Perhaps the key feature of the Jazz Academy is that participants are provided their instruments free of charge, to take home.

Video components for distance learning include a four-part video lesson by Eric Jones, the SMF Ron & Susan Whitaker Interim Music Director.

A recent response from the mother of a participant: “My daughter has been so inspired from [SMF] Jazz Academy that she’s practicing every night!”

The Musical Explorers program, much larger and intended for a younger cohort, “would be preparing for their end of semester concerts right now,” Woodruff says.

“It’s sad to think so many kids won’t be enjoying the communal experience of getting together and singing songs,” she says.