The Music Academy has been teaching students in the State College community for more than 50 years, but the fall semester that started this week brought big changes to the nonprofit music school.
Now, the State College Suzuki Program — another community staple — is part of the school’s offerings. So in addition to traditional classes in a variety of instruments — piano, guitar, saxophone, euphonium, voice — students now have the option to receive instruction following the Suzuki Method, which originated in Japan and focuses on parent involvement, encouragement and constant repetition.
“It takes the idea of how children learn their first language and applies that to music,” said Sally Williams Minnich, director of the SCSP.
Under the Suzuki Method, students start learning an instrument early — usually at 3-5 years old. Early on there’s a focus on listening and learning by ear, and as with language learning, that evolves into reading lessons. Students take one-on-one classes where the parents are present, and just like parents would be expected to talk to children at home to facilitate language learning, music instruction continues in the home.
There’s also group instruction and a major emphasis on creating a nurturing environment, Williams Minnich said.
“Teaching music is actually really our secondary goal. The primary focus is on developing the heart of the child,” she said.
The SCSP operated for years as its own nonprofit. That organization dissolved in 2013, but the SCSP continued as an independent teacher co-op. Williams Minnich said there were pros and cons to that setup, with major drawbacks being a lack of a home base and a legal umbrella to operate under. The collaboration between SCSP and The Music Academy has been in the works since January, with the fall 2017 semester officially launching the partnership, which brings SCSP into The Music Academy’s West College Avenue studio. It is now called State College Suzuki Program at The Music Academy.
“It adds another dimension to how people consider this school to be a beacon of music in their town,” said Jennene Lundy, director of The Music Academy.
SCSP teachers join The Music Academy’s slate of instructors with backgrounds that include advanced degrees and international performance experience.
“They’re all experts in what they do,” said Joanne Rutkowski, president of The Music Academy board of directors.
For SCSP, joining The Music Academy lets instructors give all their focus to what they love to do.
“It’s going to take a lot of the logistical workload off individual teachers,” Williams Minnich said. “We’ll have more time to funnel into creative projects.”
Other new features that stem from SCSP joining The Music Academy include Suzuki Method students in the community being able to join as performance partners, a chamber music class aimed at engaging middle- to high-school aged students and enrichment lessons.
“The collaborative aspect is really exciting,” Williams Minnich said.
In its traditional classes, The Music Academy has students of all ages, the oldest of whom is in her 90s and studies piano, said Lundy. Just days into the fall semester, she’s excited about the energy the SCSP program has brought, with its young students, parental involvement and new classes.
“These are places that we wouldn’t have gone alone,” she said.
Students can sign up for classes at any time during the 18-week semester. For more information, visit www.scmusicacademy.org.