Rhythm In Place makes virtuosos virtually


Emily Zhu

With canceled sports and art classes, parents have been scrambling to involve their children in enriching opportunities while they’re stuck at home. With a passion for everything marching band, senior Ella Freda-Eskenazi founded Rhythm In Place to give children of all ages the opportunity to find comfort in music through virtual tutoring sessions, free of charge.

As the humdrum months of quarantine have drawn on, many have found themselves trying a bit of everything to stay busy. Music has taken a place of solace for many, but with shelter-in-place orders, not everyone has the luxury of playing instruments. Seeing this need emerge, senior Ella Freda-Eskenazi founded Rhythm In Place, an organization that offers K–12 students free, online music education.

The Los Altos–based organization started in June, and has since expanded to students and tutors worldwide, offering classes on piano, violin, guitar, voice, music theory and more.

“These students have the opportunity to learn more than just their addition and subtraction,” senior Sofia Baquero, Director of Publicity and Outreach, said. “It’s really inspiring to see Ella connecting so many different people, and it’s made me feel less lonely just seeing what she’s doing.”

The idea to create the organization sparked overnight during a FaceTime call while Ella helped her friend learn to play the piano. Realizing she could help others in the same way, Ella assembled a team of 10 peers within an hour committed to finding a way to spread the power of music during the quarantine.

Rhythm In Place has also started a GoFundMe in order to provide rental instruments to local families within their program. The organization has already received a total of $300 in donations and a request from a family to borrow an instrument.

For some families, these lessons served as a special opportunity because they were offered at no cost. Jessica Chame, a resident of Redwood City, has always wanted her two elementary school kids to learn an instrument, but some obstacles prevented them from doing so.

“We just don’t have the financial resources to do sports or ballet practice or swim lessons,” Chame said. “It’s one thing that’s always tugged at my heart that I couldn’t do for my kids, so this was really special for me. This is something that my kids can feel accomplished about, and it brings me happiness and I can see it in them as well.”

While some families join the organization in hopes of picking up musical skills, over 50 high schoolers have jumped on board to help students explore all that music has to offer.

“Music has always been a way for me to express my feelings: If I’m mad, I’ll play some rock songs; if I’m sad, I’ll play some slow songs,” senior Victor Spiessens, who plays the guitar, said. “It’s definitely helped during quarantine, and I hope that it’s also a way for my tutees to express their emotions.”

Victor noted that seeing his students develop their musical skills has motivated him to keep tutoring them into the school year. In trying to teach students, however, many tutors have found themselves struggling to adapt to the virtual environment. Tutors have had to deal with technology issues on both ends with faulty cameras, bad angles, WiFi issues and choppy audio.

Without being able to completely see their tutees playing instruments, Rhythm In Place tutors often rely on hearing alone to teach, making it difficult to know if students are truly playing the correct notes. Chame recognized these virtual challenges in her childrens’ classes.

“The tutors are going by tune or by memory,” she said. “That’s really impressive.”

As the tutors continued to develop the program, though, they have found ways to make sessions more effective by compiling a collaborative resource folder with videos, sheet music and other resources. Within the classes themselves, some tutors have utilized screen sharing or used multiple camera angles to more clearly explain concepts.

On the administrative end, Ella has also faced some growing pains with the rapid expansion of the program. With tutors coming in from marching band, orchestra, theater and choir and an equal number of tutee applicants, Ella found herself with a much heavier workload than she expected.

“I was manually typing in appointments, confirmation emails, etc., which was a challenge,” she said. “The system I originally made assumed that it would be on a smaller scale, and I definitely didn’t think about how fast the organization would take off. Right now it’s me mostly just trying to find ways of having it be more automated.”

Rhythm In Place is planning on continuing its program both locally and internationally and is currently in the process of applying to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

“It’s just really sweet to see how much music can affect people and make them happy, especially with the world being awful right now,” Ella said.