Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Backyard music lessons

Amy Putnam laughs during an outdoor lesson. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

Since Washington state began its coronavirus shutdown in March, Amy Putnam has put her creativity to the test,  offering backyard music lessons to her 35 students in the Seattle area. 

The Juilliard trained percussionist has been giving private lessons since 1996. With stay-at-home orders in place,  she has taught in recital halls, studios, hallways, garages and elevators, but never in her backyard.

Starting the first week of March, she began holding lessons through video conferencing tools like FaceTime and Zoom, before she got the idea to hold her lessons in her backyard. As long as the Seattle weather permits she plans to continue this way, leaving a hand sanitizer pump at the student’s piano and wiping down instruments after each lesson. While the shift has been difficult, she said that “musicians are resilient and resourceful,” and years of marching in drum corps have made  Putnam “used to playing outside.”

A socially distanced piano lesson in Amy Putnam’s backyard. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

Since the onset of the pandemic, many musicians have lost freelance work opportunities, with performances being cancelled. Putnam, who plays in the Tacoma Symphony, has had to cancel three of her last planned concerts. 

She suspects her colleagues are also finding new ways to stay afloat and keep working in the field that they love. While she has lost income, Putnam said she is able to continue earning a living through giving lessons, now taking every student that calls. She “doesn’t need to depend on the government for money.”

Her students range from five to 65 years old. Many are children who live in her neighborhood, taking a short bike ride to her house. She finds that students enjoy the opportunity to get out of the house, and like to play their instruments outside. While she has noticed a difference in student’s attentiveness, she noted that “they’ve adapted well.” She plans to host a series of mini backyard garden recitals where groups of students can play together, with up to three families bringing their own lawn chairs to attend, sitting at least 6 feet apart.

An umbrella shades students during their lesson. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

While the acoustic environment is “not ideal,” she finds that the joy of making music together despite the circumstance is worth it.  Putnam said that her neighbors don’t mind the lessons, and that she periodically checks in with them to be sure that they aren’t bothered by the sounds of students practicing. She joked that the cookies she occasionally brings to her neighbors probably don’t hurt either.

Sonja Gunderson practices a new piece. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

A music book clipped securely from the wind. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

Hand sanitizer for each student to use before they begin playing is one of Amy Putnam’s rules. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

A piano student pages through her lesson book. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

Keeping at least six feet apart, Amy Putnam plays a duet with her student. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

A student works on her scales. Photo by Madeline Gunderson

Flowers bloom amid the practice space. Photo by Madeline Gunderson


Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Varsity Flu

Madeline Gunderson July 3, 2020

Rail travel in China is popular during the pandemic and filled with safety measures

Bohao Liu July 3, 2020

Brazilian international student caught in US travel ban.

Marina Guimaraes July 3, 2020

MTA faces crisis following COVID shutdown

Daniel Girma July 2, 2020

Easter Market goes back to its roots

Kyla Milberger July 2, 2020

China’s Airline Industry Aims to Lure Back Passengers with Unlimited Flight Pass

Zishu Sherry Qin July 1, 2020

US corporate debt soars during coronavirus outbreak

Gaurav Sharma June 30, 2020

In Singapore, gay pride goes online

Yifan Yu June 29, 2020

The Hair Room reopens

Shiyu Xu June 29, 2020

A second wave of the coronavirus creates travel woes in Beijing

Hannah Zhang June 29, 2020

Despite a few bumps, NYC is social distancing more than not

Joanna Lin Su June 29, 2020

Experts say ISIS exploits chaos of global pandemic to rebuild

Marina Guimaraes June 26, 2020

Cutting through COVID

Thomas Hengge June 26, 2020

Venezuelan government leaves residents stranded in U.S. during pandemic

Maria Abreu June 23, 2020

Vulnerable communities fear eviction as COVID-19 rent morotorium comes to an end

Jonathan Sarabia June 22, 2020

Beijing is China’s new epicenter for the coronavirus

Hannah Zhang June 22, 2020

Clock is ticking for NYC restaurants even as outdoor dining resumes  

Gaurav Sharma June 20, 2020

Michigan hair salons are back in business

Kyla Milberger June 17, 2020

Seafood markets in China lose business over new COVID-19 scare

Bohao Liu June 17, 2020

China resorts to street vending to revive its economy

Hannah Zhang June 16, 2020

The East Village is open! Well, sort of

Thomas Hengge June 15, 2020

My trip home during the pandemic

Zishu Sherry Qin June 15, 2020

Popular India Square “won’t be the same again” 

Gaurav Sharma June 13, 2020

Feds will not raise its key interest rate until 2022 and project slow recovery

Zishu Sherry Qin June 11, 2020

Despite pandemic, thousands of Syrians protest against government as economy collapses

Marina Guimaraes June 10, 2020

On the frontline of two deadly viruses

Narkwor Kwabla June 10, 2020

Bronx fish market struggles to stay afloat during pandemic

Daniel Girma June 9, 2020

Venezuelans leave behind a country in crisis only to encounter a new crisis in New York

Maria Abreu June 8, 2020

China promotes street vendors to reboot the economy

Bohao Liu June 8, 2020

For the developmentally disabled, COVID-19 brings new challenges

Kyla Milberger June 7, 2020

Giving food to Staten island vulnerable communities during the lockdown

Alpha Kamara June 6, 2020

Hong Kongers gather despite COVID-19 ban on Tiananmen vigil

Yifan Yu June 4, 2020

Army returns home after completing COVID-19 mission in New York 

Maria Abreu June 4, 2020

Ailana’s life in quarantine

Talgat Almanov June 3, 2020

Venezuela has another obstacle: the pandemic

Marina Guimaraes June 3, 2020

China’s two session political gathering sets priority for COVID-19 recovery

Zishu Sherry Qin June 1, 2020

24-hour vending machines distribute masks to help Singapore contain the spread of COVID-19

Yifan Yu June 1, 2020

Getting married during COVID-19

Shiyu Xu June 1, 2020

New York City’s federal courts go remote and the incarcerated suffer

Daniel Girma June 1, 2020

Airlines canceled thousands of flights during pandemic

Joanna Lin Su May 31, 2020

Australia’s Covid-19 tracing app struggles after launch

Bessie Liu May 31, 2020

COVID-19 fuels fruit packers strike in Washington State

Madeline Gunderson May 29, 2020

Boston springs slowly back to life

Thomas Hengge May 28, 2020

A dictatorship called COVID-19

Alpha Kamara May 28, 2020

During pandemic, Rio de Janeiro residents fear police

Marina Guimaraes May 27, 2020

Recovering from drugs during a pandemic

Kyla Milberger May 26, 2020

  Covid-19 takes away the communal joy at Eid-al-Fitr celebration

Narkwor Kwablaa May 25, 2020

Beloved old school game sees boom in numbers during coronavirus quarantine

Michael Yang May 15, 2020

Coronavirus leaves the fate of some beloved New York events uncertain

Emily Glass May 15, 2020

South Africa’s lockdown exposes inequalities

Kathleen Taylor May 14, 2020