Virtual ‘porch concerts’ bring Hampton band students, families together

Trib logo Teghan Simonton

Tuesday, March 31, 2020 | 11:01 PM

Hampton Township School District organized “porch concerts” across its municipalities Tuesday night, in which band students — along with their families — performed songs of their choosing for neighbors and passersby.

Students across the district played a variety of songs — the Star Wars theme song, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Ode to Joy” — all from their own homes.

Inspired by clips on social media of people singing from their balconies in Italy, a group of music teachers wanted to create something similar in the school district.

Amy Stepson, an orchestra teacher at Hampton Middle School, brought the idea forward last week. Since then, music faculty across the district have been collaborating to organize the event, reaching out to band, orchestra and chorus students to participate.

Families recorded video of their individual porch concerts, which were uploaded to the district’s Facebook page.

Gov. Wolf closed schools indefinitely Monday, amid the covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing has put a strain on teachers and schools, who are still searching for the best way to educate students remotely; and the isolation can take a toll on students.

“It’s hard to be without your friends, to not be able to hug them or say hi,” said Esme Farmakis, 10, whose family participated in the virtual concert.

Esme and her brother, Jackson Farmakis, 14, both take band classes in the district. They both play the saxophone, and Jackson also plays guitar.

Esme said playing in a group, practicing the same song at the same time, is helpful to track your progress, to know that you’re playing correctly, on track with the song. Since schools were closed, she said her band teacher has sent online videos to students, instructing them virtually and having them play along to a tune.

But music is meant to be taught and played together, said Sean Desguin, music department liaison and elementary band director. Desguin said the porch concert, in some small way, brings the district’s music students together at a time when they’re forced to be apart. He participated himself from his home in Aspinwall, performing “God Bless America” on his trumpet.

“The big thing about this is, while they will still be social distancing, they will be outside and making music together, being part of a community in a way they have not been able to do for going on three weeks now,” Desguin said.

In solidarity with the district, the Farmakis family donned cowboy hats and sang a parody of John Denver’s “Country Roads,” on their front porch in Allison Park.

“Playing music is the universal language,” said Chris Farmakis, 52, Esme and Jackson’s father. Chris Faramakis was the one who wrote the lyrics to the family’s performance, a task that he said took him only seven minutes. The famous lines, “country roads, take me home” were changed to “stayin’ home, safe at home.”

They are a “musical family,” Chris Farmakis said. They’ve been posting videos of their own musical ventures on Facebook throughout the governor’s order to stay home. When they heard the school district was organizing a formal event, they volunteered to participate right away.

The porch concert has been a welcome distraction to the chaos of the pandemic, he said.

“We’re looking forward to seeing other videos that people post,” he said. “We’re making the most of it.”