How virtual piano lessons brought two New York City teens together during the pandemic

When New York City went into lockdown and kids had to adapt to virtual learning, some lost motivation. But one eighth-grader from East Harlem, New York was determined to use the time at home for good.

Osiel Dominguez, a student at Partnership Schools’ Our Lady Queen of Angels, told CBS News that ever since he was a little kid, he’s hated sitting at home and needs to be active. 

“So my dad would always joke around, ‘We’re going to put you guys in a mariachi band.’ He’s like, ‘You’re going to play accordion and your brother’s going to play guitar.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want to play that. I want to play the piano one day,'” Dominguez said.

After always saying he was going to learn piano, he finally decided to do it during the pandemic. His mom bought him a shortened keyboard and he started teaching himself how to play. 

One of Dominguez’s teachers heard he was teaching himself and asked if he’d like an instructor.  

Diego Barrera, an 11th-grader at Collegiate School and an accomplished pianist, wanted use his musical talents to help others. So, he reached out to a family friend who worked at Partnership Schools and offered to help students learn piano. 

“I remember when I was in middle school and I had a peer teacher, who I called a practice buddy. And it was really rewarding, I loved it. So, I wanted to do the same thing for somebody else,” Barrera told CBS News.

So, Partnership Schools set them up to start piano lessons. Barrera and Dominguez started meeting virtually every Thursday for lessons and in just months, Osiel went from playing “Chopsticks” to preparing for his first performance at his eighth-grade graduation.

“You would think that you can’t teach piano by yourself, but in our first lesson, Osiel played the first half of ‘Für Elise,’ which I thought was really, really impressive to do by yourself,” said Barrera. “It’s doable, especially if you love to learn and really want to improve. And I immediately saw that in Oisel.”

Dominguez said piano gave him something to focus on other than school. “When I had nothing to do, I’d come here and play,” he said, standing in front of his piano. 

While most people were stuck at home, Dominguez and Barrera found a new friend – someone each may not have crossed paths with on the streets of New York City, but now see virtually once a week. 

“I’m a firm believer that music is a connector,” Barrera said. “So, this is kinda the perfect example of that, at a time when everybody needed it the most. And as the world is opening back up again, it’s fun to see Osiel and I have really developed our relationship, which has been all around music and all around the piano.” 

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