Swallow Hill goes virtual during shutdown

Beloved music institution doing what it can until reopening

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Swallow Hill Music is a place that builds community.

“There's such an energy about it,” said Cheri Gonzales, Swallow Hill's development manager. “Not having that during this time has been challenging.”

On March 25, Swallow Hill Music CEO Paul Lhevine announced a temporary closure of the music organization because of statewide and local social distancing measures in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Our goal is to ensure when this crisis is over, Swallow Hill will once again be able to open our doors, bring our teachers back to work and invite our community to come together as the music community that means so much to so many,” Lhevine said in a statement.

Swallow Hill Music, 71 E. Yale Ave., is a nonprofit music organization founded in 1979. It hosts a variety of programs, including a music school, live music concerts and community outreach such as music therapy, enrichment and early childhood education.

“We have such a vibrant history of how we've evolved over the years, and our place in the history of the Denver music scene has created such a strong group of supporters,” Gonzales said. She added that even in the midst of the challenges during COVID-19, “we're going to continue to engage with our community.”

With all the in-person programming on pause, Swallow Hill has been implementing new ways to engage, such as offering virtual programming, Gonzales said. For example, streaming concerts online, hosting jam sessions via Facebook Live and providing some programming via Zoom.

Still, Lhevine added that Swallow Hill's closure has likely hit the organization's music instructors the hardest — on top of being laid off from their teaching positions at Swallow Hill, many earn their living as gigging professional musicians. Social distancing measures in Colorado include a ban on any gathering of 10 or more people.

Additionally, Swallow Hill realizes the value the school's music lessons bring to many of the students, Lhevine said.

“Music is a way to bind people together,” he said. “And (especially) now, we're all in our homes, looking into ways to bring joy during this difficult time.”

More: Meet the students

Though the teachers are handling their lesson offerings, schedules and fees independently, Swallow Hill has created a page on its website as a connector to Swallow Hill's teachers so students can inquire about online/virtual music lessons. The list, which continues to be updated, had nearly 40 teachers listed as of mid-April who are offering classes through a variety of platforms including Skype, Zoom and many others. Instruments range from banjo to violin, and piano to songwriting, just for a few examples.

Though Julia Hays, a fiddle and violin teacher at Swallow Hill, much prefers in-person instruction, she said the virtual and online setting is “OK and it will get us through this.”

“We can see each other, thanks to modern technology,” Hays said, “and students can still feel like they're moving forward with their learning.”

Hays has been teaching at Swallow Hill for more than 20 years, and it's the people that make Swallow Hill so wonderful, Hays said. “I get to meet people whose paths I never would've crossed.”

Although she is currently involved with a few bands, in recent years, Hays has been doing more teaching than performing, she said.

“Which has worked out beautifully for me,” Hays said. “I may have a full day of lessons back-to-back, but no two are ever the same.”

She does not have a full class load as she did prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but is still providing weekly lessons to her students online.

“We set up our time together, just as we would if we were in the building,” Hays said.

Felix Ayodele said his online lessons are going amazingly well, adding that for now, “we have to embrace this method.”

“The joy of it is still there,” he said of teaching music. Virtual lessons “provide a different perspective of how (the student) learns and gives us a different lens of keeping that fire going in the students.”

Ayodele has been a professional musician in the Denver music scene for about 15 years, and started teaching at Swallow Hill about 11 months ago.

“The arts are mega important, and institutions like Swallow Hill help keep them alive,” Ayodele said. “The joy of learning is a never-ending classroom, whether its virtual or in-person.”

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