Boise Music Lessons: Not missing a beat despite a pandemic

Caption for Lawn Lessons: Music lessons once taught indoors by Marcus Marianthi, front at right, are now conducted outside due to COVID-19. (Courtesy photo)

By Dennis Lopez

“Hey, Dad. Let’s learn to play the violin together!”

It seemed like a logical father-daughter request from my oldest daughter, Amy. After all, she was only suggesting we learn an instrument renowned for its difficulty to play, the need for incredible finger dexterity, fluid bow skills and of course the ability to read music. Sort of the musical version of rubbing your head, patting your stomach and reciting the Gettysburg Address at the same time. Not to mention that I am “70 something.” How hard could it be? Turns out, not that hard at all, if you have the right teacher.

And that’s how I met Angie Marianthi, her husband Marcus and their children. And their dog. And two cats. And learned about raising chickens in your backyard. You see theirs truly is a family small business…no, more of a family passion focused on teaching and helping everyone to learn to make music.

Operating Boise Music Lessons out of their tidy home on Vaughn Street, Angie and Marcus provide a learning gateway for people who, like my daughter and me, want to attempt to learn to play an instrument. We learned in an atmosphere of warmth and friendship, fun and personal fulfillment. The learning pace was set as much by us as by Angie and her encouraging teaching methods. Just like the younger students who had finished their lessons ahead of us, we got clever little stickers on our music books as rewards for learning something new or finishing a song. I still value those little stickers.

That was three years ago. Boise Music Lessons was in its infancy and Angie and Marcus were starting down the very uncertain pathway of owning and operating their own business. They gave up regular hours and regular paychecks to do what they always wanted to do: teach people to play an instrument like the violin, guitar, drums or the banjo.

Over those years, their business model has grown with the success of their studio and the needs of their students, changing to reflect a broader scope for those seeking to learn to play an instrument. Within those changes is a change in the age of their students. Today, 60 percent of their students are adults and they have changed the minimum age of students to nine-years-old. 

Now, during this world-wide pandemic they are faced with teaching music that normally is a hands-on form of learning, in a time when health officials say to remain socially distant from one another.

Like many small businesses during the COVID-19 health crisis, it has become necessary for Angie and Marcus to rethink the way they conduct business in a time of social distancing and face masks.

With the days of playing in the Marianthi living room now impossible, teaching people to play requires some ingenuity. The switch means that lessons are given outside on a lawn or through a virtual get-together using the internet. Regardless of the medium, Angie and Marcus view music as an important way to help people weather this current storm.

“I think right now people are identifying what is most important to them. We see our students using music to lift their spirits and connect with their families and friends, and we’re happy to be able to guide them through this process,” Angie said.

In that spirit, Boise Music Lessons uses a group learning methodology that allows students to play together while staying apart.

“In addition to one-on-one lessons, our students come together every month to learn a song as a group. Seeing a dozen different instruments come together keeps everyone motivated and excited about playing music.

“Before the pandemic we would host these groups in our home, or at local tasting rooms and coffee shops. Now we meet online, or at a park while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.”

Angie said she and Marcus are grateful that they still have a role where they can help others during these challenging times. They are sharing that gratitude with others by donating a portion of their income to help local musicians in need.

“Proceeds from our online group classes go to local nonprofits like the Treefort Live Music Relief Fund and the Boise Hive. We feel fortunate to be able to play music every day with our community, and are grateful that we can help support our fellow musicians in the process.”

That I still can grind out a recognizable tune on my violin is proof that regardless of the teaching medium they employ, their methods work. I only hope they haven’t abandoned the little reward stickers.

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