TORONTO -- Practical music exams have been a nerve-wracking rite of passage for generations of students, but for the first time, their critical performances are happening in the comfort of home.

Peter Simon, president and CEO of the Royal Conservatory of Canada, says the 134-year-old institution has been developing online content and shifted that into overdrive when COVID-19 hit. The option to earn a certificate virtually will be a permanent offering for the RCM.

When pandemic restrictions were imposed across the country, the Toronto-based musical education organization believed it was important to pivot online so that the self-expression, cognitive development and fun that music provides could continue, Simon told CTV’s Your Morning Monday.

But after the organization developed a platform to help its teachers go online, it had to come up with an alternative to replace in-person performance exams. Students are connecting with examiners though a Zoom link, and in some cases, also posting a video of their playing on YouTube for evaluation.

“I think we are the only ones in the world to do it at this scale. And in the month of June, for example, there are going to be 20,000 students that are taking the RCM exam online for the first time in history,” said Simon, who began his own musical career with the RCM.

He said, other than the method of connection, the exams are conducted just as they always have been.

The RCM trialled its new testing system with a small group of students, the “overwhelming majority” of whom enjoyed the experience, he said. The organization has provided guidelines to students and teachers around the sound and placement of the camera and advised examiners to make allowances for in case of glitches due to internet connectivity, for example.

“But the feedback that we’ve gotten has just been terrific because the kids can now do this in their own home and they really enjoy that it’s a less stressful environment, I think.”

Willow McBride, 6, earned her first certificate online and got some vanilla ice cream to celebrate.

“I had fun and I love my exam. I was a little worried and I did it and I feel proud of myself,” she says in a video message to her teacher.