Arts Academy

St. Joseph Arts Academy founder Jason Riley gives a student a lesson over a video conferencing app.

Being a musician means learning to improvise when things get out of rhythm, trusting in others to stay in sync and falling into a groove with each other.

It’s what musician Jason Riley and his school, the St. Joseph Arts Academy, has been teaching for two years and, in a global health crisis, it also has been put to the test.

“Music is an emotional and a spiritual tool and especially in a time that they’re so uncertain right now, at least we can fall back on our music,” he said.

Normally, the rooms at the school at 2027 N. 36th St., are filled with guitar licks, musical scales and people being taught the fundamentals of music. Instead, it’s turned into video conferencing sessions at home for all teachers and students. It was a big swing that Riley said he wasn’t prepared to take.

“I felt like I was a little bit behind the curve in terms of ‘Oh, this is, this is real. And it’s time to make some adjustments.’ We still had people coming into the academy,” he said,

When it was clear that the school couldn’t continue in a traditional manner, since sessions usually take place in an enclosed space, the teachers and students started exploring different options.

“Some immediately switched online. And then the second week (of the shutdown), everybody was online and all the teachers were remotely teaching,” he said.

Much like grade schools and higher learning institutions, the Arts Academy took to apps like Zoom and FaceTime early and have been running with it well.

“Everything flipped in about one week — ‘Let’s figure this out.’ Bam. We’re all online now. And I know we had some refining to do after that. But that was amazing,” he said.

For both the students and the teachers, it gives them a sense of normalcy and routine. In some cases, they’re able to meet more often with their students than they did before.

“They just had everything taken away from them. So they have extra time, especially the younger students, to be spending more time with their instrument and those kids will have a huge growth spurt, musically speaking,” he said.

The move to video conferencing also has allowed of the Arts Academy to get creative with its performances. Young musicians are getting outside perspective from seasoned veterans who they wouldn’t normally perform in front of. On May 16, the group will host an online recital of its students for everyone to see on its Facebook page.

“All of their year-end music contests and recitals and everything they’ve been working ... it was all just canceled on them. So we didn’t want that to happen for our students,” Riley said.

Where many small businesses are struggling, the Arts Academy has been thankful that it has a support system in place and people who believe in the power of music.

“For the most part, everybody’s going ‘We’re gonna support you. We still value your lessons and so that’s kind of kudos to our families and our teachers are awesome professionals,” he said.

It’s a step forward for the business that Riley said likely will change the way lessons can be arranged. While local businesses slowly open, the Arts Academy also expects to take a measured approach, tentatively opening in June, conducting a mixture of in-person lessons in accordance to city guidelines, while also continuing online classes.

For Riley, he can’t wait to hear those lessons rooms be filled with music again.

“I miss everybody. We’re just kind of texting back and forth, there’s e-mails that go out regularly. We’re supporting each other. We’re checking in,” he said.

Andrew Gaug can be reached at

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