Self portrait by Ty Boyland

I am a music instructor and serial entrepreneur, a product of a middle-class upbringing in Frayser by parents who held multiple jobs and knew how to adapt.

COVID-19 has made me resort to the training I received in my youth. More than 60% of my income has vanished since March, so my family has drastically reduced spending. We’ve stocked up on nonperishable foods that will stretch, like rice, dry beans and canned vegetables, just like I was taught as a child. I’ve also decided to sell some stock in my portfolio.

Early on, I learned the importance of multiple streams of revenue. My mom owned a daycare center, worked at Zayre retail store, and had several children’s books published. My dad worked for Coca Cola Bottling Co., D. Canale Beverages and owned a business that delivered auto parts. Seeing them working hard had to have affected me throughout my life.

I am a senior fellow with the Memphis Music Initiative, I facilitate music production classes at two high schools, own a consulting firm, a microgreens business, and during this period of isolation, I have finally committed to putting the finishing touches on my new beard oil business.

My family and I had just moved to Harbor Town during spring break to be closer to downtown, where increasingly, business had required most of my time. Then, much of it came to a screeching halt.

For a 42-year-old father of five (ages 16, 17, 19, 21, and 25), this sudden loss of financial security is unsettling.

Our saving grace, for now, is that two organizations I have music facilitation contracts with will continue to pay until completion, and my wife continues to work from home for Southwest Community College. The part that keeps me up at night is my contracts run out at the end of May.

For a 42-year-old father of five (ages 16, 17, 19, 21, and 25), this sudden loss of financial security is unsettling.

Every year, my summers have been very lucrative, with summer camp work and consultations for numerous nonprofits. With no one knowing how the pandemic will progress, or if funding will ever recover for any programming to continue, life past May will be interesting, to say the least, for my family.

This is where adaptability and resourcefulness come in. My most significant professional assets are knowledge of music and technology, and the merger of the two provides an opportunity to replace some of the income I’ve lost.

As a music producer for 25-plus years, I have to keep up with the changing tides in technology. While the pandemic has highlighted how technology can keep us connected, it has also magnified the inequities in education in Memphis.

I teach at two schools, Crosstown High School and Central High School. My students at Crosstown were equipped with iPads at the beginning of the school year. Having taught at schools with minimal resources, building a high-quality curriculum with state-of-the-art equipment was a dream of sorts.

When time came to implement online learning at Crosstown after schools were shut down in March, we were ready. A plan was launched to ensure all students had WiFi at home so no one would be left out during the extended time out.

It was an opportunity to show how effective modern music education is in teaching self-reflection, social awareness, collaboration, entrepreneurship, and, yup, adapting. Many of my students expressed that though their families are experiencing hardships, what’s helped is being able to unplug from the madness of COVID-19 and join the class via Zoom, and being free to create.

On our first video call, there was such a huge sense of relief, with smiles all around and shouts of “Mr. Boyland!” as they connected to class.

However, my Central students were not issued iPads when school began, but shared 10 that I bought. Aside from those iPads and my personal equipment, and a smart-board, there was no other tech for the students I teach there.

Self portrait by Ty Boyland

I am not able to teach them remotely, or other students I mentor through various programs. Though these students and their parents have emailed me wanting to continue their music lessons, many do not have consistent access to the internet or software needed to complete specific tasks. They cannot afford it, and financial constraints have only deepened since this crisis began.

It breaks my heart to know I cannot provide an equitable experience for all of the youth I serve, but what gives me hope is knowing what is possible.

This pandemic is financially painful for so many of us, but forward thinkers may see a new industry that could come from it.

This pandemic is financially painful for so many of us, but forward thinkers may see a new industry that could come from it. I can foresee artists adopting a subscription model for access to studio sessions, virtual meet-and-greets, new song releases live online.

Performing live online would allow artists to entertain more fans at one time than any stadium could hold. There would be a need for people who could navigate the tech side of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if a music industry version of Facebook or Instagram emerged from all of this.

I’m preparing for things not to go back to the way they were before the novel coronavirus affected our lives. That said, if the way we work and entertain change, then the way we educate should, too, with an emphasis on equity.

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This piece is in partnership with Memphis Music Initiative. High Ground News and MLK50 are collaborating to run first-person essays from area workers whose income and livelihoods have been rattled by the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some of their stories.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy, Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.

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