• Penny Neef

Teaching Music in the Time of Covid

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Words by Penny Neef. Images courtesy of Karen Jackson.



Everything is different and more difficult. Life is more complicated. We’re all adapting and adjusting. We have to worry about toilet paper, sanitizer, our temperature and so much more.


Through all of this, in our new normal, we need to remember what’s really important – family, friends, community, the causes we believe in. There is some good in all of this. We’ve had time to pursue the things we love to do. The arts have always been important to me. There is a lot of not so great painting going on in my house lately. It makes me happy and keeps me centered.


The arts are important to Karen Jackson. Her passion is music. She trained at the prestigious Eastman School of Music as a clarinetist. She has been the band director and music teacher at The Williams School in Norfolk for 22 years. She can teach, and play, flute, sax, trumpet, trombone baritone and various percussion instruments.


The Williams School closed its buildings in mid-March because of Covid 19, but Jackson continued to teach remotely for many of her band students who wanted to continue learning their instrument of choice. She taught “whatever that child needed to continue to grow as a musician and have fun while doing it.”


It’s officially summer vacation. We are still in the midst of a pandemic. Jackson has students that want to continue with their music, and the arts are important. Studies have shown that learning an instrument can improve memory and abstract thinking skills, which helps with a whole host of academic subjects. Besides, playing music just makes you happy. Who doesn’t need a little happiness right now?


Karen Jackson has teamed up with The Academy of Music, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to bring the joys and benefits of learning music to the residents of Hampton Roads, regardless of their ability to pay.” The Academy of Music will support Jackson in implementing all the CDC guidelines to teach private lessons in her home this summer.


Jackson has a large front room, equipped with a thermometer, sanitizer, hand cleanser and the rest. Only the student musician will be allowed in the house, no parents or siblings. As Jackson says, “you can’t really teach a wind instrument with a mask.” She teaches with an instrument in her hand, modeling technique. The student can sit at an appropriate distance and still see and hear her. “It’s a joy for me to teach” says Jackson.

a selfie of Karen and Samantha

Karen Jackson has another passion in her life, inspired by her 23-year old daughter, Samantha. Samantha is autistic. Jackson is an advocate and activist for inclusivity for the disabled community. She founded the Faith Inclusion Network in 2008. FIN is “dedicated to helping faith communities develop inclusive ministries for people with disabilities and helping families affected by disability to find welcoming and accessible places to worship in South Hampton Roads, VA.”


Jackson and The Academy of Music are working together to develop a pilot program called Band-Together. Jackson will teach people with disabilities individual and small group instruction on band instruments, with the goal of forming a small ensemble group. This type of musical instruction will be the first of its kind in Hampton Roads and one of very few nation-wide. Jackson is hoping to begin Band-Together this fall. For more information, contact The Academy of Music.

Karen, Scott, and Samantha at the Tattoo.

Jackson says, for many students, “arts education is their life-line in school.” For all students, “the arts have a social component that is so important and we can’t forget about it.” Schools must make a commitment to arts education as we move forward during these uncertain times.

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