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Friday, 23 September 2016 09:47

Music lessons for a new generation

Written by  Lynn Greene
Kai Suh, 7, of Fontana, takes voice lessons from Lake Geneva House of Music instructor Jeannette VanKanegan. Suh also studies piano, drums and fiddle. Kai Suh, 7, of Fontana, takes voice lessons from Lake Geneva House of Music instructor Jeannette VanKanegan. Suh also studies piano, drums and fiddle. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- “Music to me is like breathing,” said Ray Charles, American singer, musician and composer. “I don’t get tired of breathing. I don’t get tired of music.”

Almost everyone who breathes enjoys music -- whether that is listening to it, making it or moving to it. Of course, the style of music differs by person, peer group and regional and cultural affiliation.

“I love it so much,” said 9-year-old Taydric Square, as he bounces with the beat behind the drum set he is playing.

Taydric likes to sing, but he also is learning the drums, cello and bass as a student at Lake Geneva House of Music.

Ever since the popularity of “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “Glee,” children are getting back to music -- but it’s today’s music they love, not the stuff of yellowed parchment stored in the flip-top piano bench of yesteryear.

According to MMR, a trade magazine for musical merchandise, performance-based music lessons, such as those offered at the Lake Geneva School of Music, have jumped in popularity.

Students such as Taydric are a testament to that enthusiasm.

According to his dad, Cedric Square, young Taydric practices an hour a day.

 “He just goes into his room and puts in the time,” Cedric Square said. “I don’t have to tell him or nothing.”

The 2008 study, “Arts Education in Wisconsin Public Schools,” found that, “Arts education has many benefits for children, the community and society as a whole.”

But kids don’t want to know how good music is for you; they just want to have fun.

When 7-year-old Kai Suh of Fontana is asked what he likes to listen to at home, he answers quickly -- ”Help,” by the Beatles.

His response is a testament to the desire of his parents to expose him to all kinds of music -- including the ’60s rock band that had its heyday decades before Kai entered this world. A couple weekends ago, Kai was in Woodstock for a folk festival listening to the fiddle contest. It made him look at his violin in a new way. He’s interested in everything musical, from violin to voice, piano to percussion.

Kai and Taydric are at the music studio multiple times a month. In Kai’s case, make that multiple times a week.

“He started with private violin lessons,” explains Sandy Suh, Kai’s mother. “After two weeks they had a performance and I noticed all these kids going from singing to playing their instruments to backup and they were having so much fun.”

She asked her son if he’d like to try some of these things and the answer was a resounding yes. Now he takes voice, piano and drums. And he switched to fiddle from violin -- the instrument is the same, but the style of playing is different.

After moving to Fontana from Lake Forest, Illinois, Suh started looking for something similar to the School of Rock, which was popular in that area. The “School of Rock” is a 2003 film starring Jack Black as a down-and-out rock singer and guitarist who takes a job as a substitute teacher at a prep school. He gathers together a rag-tag band of fourth-graders in an attempt to win a battle of the bands and pay his rent. The movie spawned a stage adaptation and a TV series that premiered earlier this year.

The film also created a surge in popularity of rock and pop performance-based music instruction outside of the formal school setting, which traditionally offers band and orchestra. Now, it’s relatively easy to find rock- or pop-style, performance-based instruction.

Lake Geneva House of Music owner Chris Buttleman said his business is much more than a rock school. And he points out that his business is an independent school, not a franchise, which gives him the flexibility to adjust to his students’ needs.

“We teach a wide range of styles and instruments and we’re always looking to add more,” he said.

Buttleman, like most of his instructors, is a professional musician who has spent his life working in the music industry.

He developed an early appreciation for music partly due to his older brothers, who influenced his musical taste by playing the Beatles, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix. By age 14, he was playing guitar, and at age 17, he spent a summer at the Guitar Institute of Technology. He kept improving his playing even as he gained skill as a guitar builder and repairman. As a technician, he traveled with bands such as the Eagles and Elton John. He brings this broad range of experience to his students at the LGHOM.

As a teacher, Buttleman loves to see students who are inspired to learn. He said they grow more confident in a group setting, which is why the school offers private lessons on a specific instrument and group lessons, where learning is facilitated by the interaction with other budding musicians.

Weekly lessons are the foundation for learning the instrument. Fun begins when you apply what you’ve learned in a group setting. Students realize their potential when they play in one of the performance groups.

Once Suh enrolled her son in the LGHOM program, she knew he had found his niche.

Square, a working musician, singer and composer, had checked out other programs for his son but settled on the LGHOM because of the number of kids involved in the program.  

“I didn’t see that anyplace else,” he said.

Getting an early start

Kenneth Guilmartin is co-founder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergartners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.

“Children learn music by seeing people they love model how to be active music-makers. And, in turn, the adults become more and more adept at interacting with their kids in musical ways,” Guilmartin said. “By modeling musical behaviors, you become your child’s most important music teacher and help them develop the disposition to be a music-maker.”

The House of Music offers a continuous range of classes starting with a mini musicians program for ages 0 to 6. The class exposes children to singing, dancing, playing instruments and using props to improvise music. The music school has classes for children and adults. The students are divided into groups based on age and ability: beginner, intermediate, advanced and adult.

“He (Buttleman) is really good at finding performance places for the students,” Square said. “After that first concert in Lake Geneva (part of the Concerts in the Park series), Taydric just loved it. The fact that he had an opportunity to be part of that, I think, is just wonderful.” 

The students have so much fun performing they don’t know how much they’re learning.

Square said his son has gotten better at reading and math.

“He doesn’t mind the repetition now; that’s how he learns his music and it’s helping him a lot in other things, too,” Square said. “He’s got more patience.”

“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin said.    

President Obama’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities conducted an in-depth review of the current condition of arts education. The committee’s landmark study, “Reinvesting in Arts Education,” clearly shows the link between arts education and achievement in other subjects. All forms of art -- from music to photography to dance -- prepare children for success in the workforce not simply as artists, but all professions.

In his foreword to the report, Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, writes, “Education in the arts is more important than ever. In the global economy, creativity is essential. Today’s workers need more than just skills and knowledge to be productive and innovative participants.”

He continues to explain that creative experiences are part of the daily work life of engineers, business managers and hundreds of other professionals.

“To succeed today and in the future, America’s children will need to be inventive, resourceful and imaginative,” Duncan said.

Performing with others also helps students build critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition, performing in front of others helps boost children’s self-esteem and gives them the opportunity to overcome fears and see they can succeed.

All you need to do to believe is watch these students perform, doing what they love. They do it with their full concentration and their whole being.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” said poet Thomas Merton.

It’s certainly true for these young students of music.

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