It was slated to be one of multiple visits that Manuel would be making to his hometown of Mexico City this year.
The Grade 8 student --- in his first year at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) --- would have been back and forth to Mexico three to four times this calendar year, during school breaks and summer vacation.
That included March Break 2020.
“I am in Mexico because I came to visit my family during March Break. I come to Mexico often because my dad still works and lives here,” says the 14-year-old.
“I realized I was stuck one week before the March Break ended when Canada announced closed borders for non-citizens.”
Manuel’s next thought?
“Music e-learning was the first thing I thought of when the school told us we would not be resuming classes for a while,” he says. “And I also started thinking how I would get a flute to start.”
MEANWHILE IN CANADA
The quick pivot to online learning at SMCS has had one of its greatest and most lingering impacts on the arts, particularly the music programme.
In the hours immediately after school building closures were mandated by the government, several SMCS staff members sprang into action.
“Mr. (Jamie) Oatt, head of music, asked us to survey the students to see who had instruments at home to play,” says Daniel Douglas, Music teacher at SMCS. “There were about 95 students who needed instruments due to not having taken them home for March Break. The music course is 65% performance-based so we needed to get this taken care of.”
Necessity evolved into persistence then progressed to a plan.
“They (the instruments) were organized by postal code and delivered to students' homes over the course of three days,” says Douglas, who has been teaching at SMCS since 2006. “It was an enormous team effort.”
The plan was a contactless, curbside drop-off to 95 SMCS music students across the GTA --- all driven by staff and faculty. Apart from the actual driving involved, there was the retrieval of instruments from lockers and the music room, matching student to an instrument, mapping out each day’s route, ensuring enough space to haul the cargo, and assigning participants to make the deliveries.
Manuel was not one of the lucky 95.
Back in Mexico, Manuel’s vacation-turned-stay now included ‘distance’ learning --- literally and figuratively.
“My e-learning has been going well overall as I do not think it is as difficult as everybody expected,” he says.
But the issue of his being able to perform his music tests remained unresolved.
“I just told Mr. Douglas my situation and he told me to hand in the assignments as soon as I got a flute,” he says. “I suggested renting an instrument from a local music store if possible, but wasn’t sure that he would be able to get one as they were probably closed,” recounts Douglas. “After a few days, I told him that if he couldn't get a flute, I would be happy deferring all of his playing until he came home. Then we could work it out.”
Manuel kept persevering and problem-solving.
“A few days later he told me that he had bought a flute used off of Kijiji!” says Douglas. “I was very surprised.”
Manuel says he paid $90 for the used flute. When he tested it out, he made a discovery.
“The problem was that the holes in my flute would not fully close (the holes were not sealed properly and clearly in bad condition), so my flute would make a squeaky sound in most of the notes I know how to play,” he says.
Manuel asked Mr. Douglas for suggestions on how to fix it.
“With no hope of getting it repaired, I tried an old work-around by asking him to wrap the bad keys in cellophane,” says Douglas. “This was about the only ‘bush fix’ solution I could try! He did it and it worked.”
“I have learned that sometimes unexpected things block your way and that you have to find a way to power through,” says Manuel, now equipped to practice and participate.
“For my music test, I had to record a video of me playing a scale,” he adds.
“Manuel sent in a performance test the next day and it was awesome,” says Douglas. “He is back in business and flourishing from Mexico!”
Resourcefulness and dedication --- on several fronts --- combine to strike the right chord.