Phillip Meader Yetter wanted to do everything his older sister did. So when she began taking music lessons, he did the same.
His teacher, Dee Sales, recalls his mother saying “he was bound and determined. If his sister’s going to do it, then he’s going to do it.”
That’s how Meader Yetter, 18, of Lynnwood, took up the piano at age 4.
He continues to study under Sales, even as he’s about to graduate from Lakeside High School in Seattle.
“I’ve had the same music teacher my entire life. That doesn’t really happen,” Meader Yetter said. “I feel like that’s a super unique experience.”
Meader Yetter is one of the hundreds of students Sales, 69, has taught throughout her career. For the past two decades, she’s tutored students across Snohomish County. Now she teaches virtually.
Dee Sales specializes in piano and classical vocal style. Her husband, Daniel Sales, 63, teaches guitar. The couple have taught in Snohomish County since moving to the area in 2001. In 2005, they co-founded Dee’s Music Room, which pairs students with private tutors.
Currently, they have about 60 students between all the instructors, with 35 under Dee Sales alone.
In March 2020, the Saleses closed their studio space in Woodinville due to COVID. At that point they had about half a dozen teachers who mostly met with students in person. But the Saleses were no strangers to virtual lessons.
Their studio uses video chat software called Muzie.Live. It’s similar to Zoom but tailored for streaming musical performance.
Initially, instructors relied on it when students were sick or the weather was bad. With the pandemic, it became a necessity.
So when the time came to make the jump to digital, the Saleses felt prepared.
“We were ready. The students were used to it. So that transition, I think, was one of the good things for us,” Dee Sales said. “And we’ve just been staying that way.”
The software made it possible for the Saleses to continue teaching students in Snohomish County after they moved to upstate New York last June to live closer to family.
But virtual lessons aren’t without challenges. Turns out it’s harder to keep young kids engaged online.
“They tend to look at you and then run and dance around the room,” Dee Sales said.
As for older students, they tend to have busy schedules, balancing school, sports and other activities. So the option to practice virtually has been a boon, said Barbara Spadavecchia, one of Dee Sales’ music instructors.
Spadavecchia is first violinist in the Seattle String Quartet. She lives in Edmonds and has worked with the studio since 2011. She currently tutors about 10 students, most of them referrals from Dee Sales.
Spadavecchia misses the studio’s rehearsal space, where students and instructors could all meet. But throughout the pandemic the studio managed to continue hosting recitals for students. Some concerts were live-streamed. Other performances were recorded by students and edited together.
Spadavecchia said the recitals are one of the biggest benefits of working with the Saleses. The couple are so passionate about them that they’ll fly back from the East Coast just to attend. It’s the sort of production Spadavecchia would never have the time to coordinate on her own.
“Dee is just amazing,” Spadavecchia said. “One way or another, COVID or no COVID, she has managed to make sure that there are these opportunities.”
Recitals are a central feature of Dee’s Music Room. Dee Sales believes concerts motivate students and give them a goal to work toward.
“Just taking piano lessons with no event, no goal, it doesn’t have the same effect,” she said. “Students don’t know what they can do until they have a challenge in front of them.”
This is why Dee Sales helps students prepare for exams from The Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada.
“There’s a lot of teachers that just want it to be fun. And we find that fun comes from really putting yourself into it, and seeing what you want to do,” Dee Sales said.
Her student, Meader Yetter, managed to finish all 10 levels of the RCM’s exams.
“I’m pretty proud of that,” he said. “And this year, I’m playing an entire Beethoven sonata, which is huge for me.”
After graduating, Meader Yetter will enroll at Brown University in Rhode Island. He isn’t sure if he’ll continue his studies with Dee Sales but believes the lessons he’s learned from her will stick with him for a lifetime.
“Dee taught me not just piano but the fundamentals of music theory, skills that have stayed with me for so long that music just feels like a part of who I am,” he said. “She’s made it very clear that I can always reach out to her for help with music or anything else. So I think we’ll keep in touch, hopefully, for a long time.”