Music School celebrates 100 years

Terry RogersCulture, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Michele Peters provides information on the history of the Music School of Delaware during a reception celebrating the 100th anniversary of the school

On Tuesday, June 25, the Music School of Delaware kicked off their centennial celebration with a gala event at their Wilmington location and a smaller reception at their Milford campus. Michele Peters, the first director of the Milford campus, provided fun facts and the history of the school.

“I thought I’d take some time now to give you a little history, at least of the music school’s foundings starting in the Milford area,” Peters said. “I’ve been here in Milford since 1981 and actually, the reason I came here was because of the music school. I was up in Wilmington, was teaching there. And this whole thing started with a vision of two women and the two women are right here on our sign. Linda Wheating Breedlove and Rachel Grier Reynolds. Linda passed on two years ago. Rachel is living in Lewes and still involved in support of the school.”

Peters introduced Pat Fisher who was in attendance at the Milford reception, explaining that she was a member of the first board of the music school.

“So how this began with Rachel and Linda, they were living here in Milford and they wanted their children to have violin lessons and there wasn’t any quality of music instruction that that had it down here,” Peters said. “So they went up to the Wilmington Music School. They interviewed Steven Gunzenhauser, who was the current director at the Wilmington Music School at that time, and they said, “Steven, we want to start a music school in Milford. We don’t want to be part of you. We want to start our own school in Milford” and they wanted to start with violin.”

Gunzenhauser told the two women that he had the perfect person to help them, introducing them to Peters.

“They interviewed me and spoke to me and they said, “Yeah, we would love to have you come down”. And so, the music school began, it was incorporated on June 10, 1981. That September, we opened and began giving lessons. We started two days a week, Thursday and Friday. I would come down, I was living in Wilmington, and I would come down on a Thursday morning, teach all day. I probably had about almost 20 students,” Peters said. “Each day there about 20 students but then I was also the director and teaching violin at the same time. On Thursday morning, I’d do that and then I stayed over at Rachel and her husband, Tom’s home every Thursday night. They had a large home with plenty of bedrooms and I was teaching hree of their children anyway, at the same time.”

For the first year, Peters commuted back and forth from Milford to Wilmington. After that, additional teachers were added.

“We added teachers, myself and then another piano teacher. We started with piano as well. And then those were the first was the actually the very first year so then the next year because it started to grow, I moved down and then I actually went back to finish some teaching up there for a year or two before eventually moving here permanently,” Peters said. “In the beginning, our stated goal, our motto was “bringing the joy of music to the community of southern Delaware.” We were housed in Avenue United Methodist Church. They were very gracious to allow us to use their second floor, their classrooms and the second floor in the back of their church. One was our office and that was totally ours for the time that we needed. And then we would use their classroom space to teach lessons throughout the week. And then they obviously used it on Sundays. So, it worked out perfectly. Our threefold mission at that time was to teach music instruction; second to enrich instruction through supplementary training performances and other experiences;  and third was outreach. That was a big one.”

Reynolds focused on outreach which led the Delaware Music School to open four new branches in Dover, Seaford, Lewes and Millsboro within five years. The faculty grew to 17 and students rose above 200, from 38 the first year. The music school offered the only string orchestra in Southern Delaware at the time and Peters recalled traveling around the state performing at various schools.

“We would go into different schools in Southern Kent County and Sussex, and we would do this during the school day. Of course, my violin students loved it because they got out of school for the day. We went to mostly public schools, we would take our program and we would do three concerts in one day,” Peters said. “We had to strategically choose those places to be playing. We would do an early morning concert, one in the late morning, and then an afternoon concert. And then of course, we always went for ice cream afterwards, which was great. We would do the program, we would have a bass player and a little fanfare, add a little bit to the program and we would just give them some music background showing about the violin and play music for them. So it was a great thing because there was no strings at all down here.”

The musicians also played on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, performing for passengers. In 1984, 21 music school students were invited to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC as part of the 14th Annual Suzuki String Festival.

“That was quite an experience, there were many other string players there. The student’s were used to playing in the small area here with us. Then we’re all at the Kennedy Center with throngs of other violinists of all ages. So, it was it was quite an experience,” Peters said. “In May of 1985, 12 Suzuki string students performed at Wolfgap Farm Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna. So that was also another great experience. And then November 1985, the Delaware Music School string players performed with the Dover Symphony. So, we have local Dover Symphony community orchestra, and we had the Suzuki violin students play with them. I had the symphony prepare the accompaniment for the pieces that they could play, so it mostly was out of the Suzuki repertoire. So, they lined up in front of the Dover Symphony while the symphony just played the piano part. So what fun it was a small young violinist to play and behind you were all these instruments and a full orchestra. Okay now, and that was really fun.”

Over the years, the Delaware Music School hosted children’s choruses, summer programs and string ensembles. They also housed the Milford Community Band before they moved to their own facility. The music school brought in renowned artists to expose the community to new musical talents as well. In the 1990’s, the school offered unique lessons such as banjo, autoharp and recorder. In September 1998, the school moved from Avenue Church to 10 South Walnut Street.

“Wright Parker owned the building and he renovated it to our needs for the music school. We were there from 1998 until moving here,” Peters said. “Before that, on May 31 2003, there was a fire, Milford had a fire and it didn’t start in our building started down below up a couple of doors down, but it did affect us. We did lose some files, some instruments, some paperwork and things that,  but not a not a lot. But that put us behind a little bit, but Avenue Church opened up again and allowed us to go back in there for a short period of time until Wright Parker was able to you repair the building.”

The Delaware Music School was able to offer summer programs that year and in November 2003, returned to Walnut Street. In June 2006, the school celebrated their 25th anniversary.

“In the 26th year, that’s when we had talked with the Wilmington Music School. They were looking to expand and have more of a statewide presence. We were experiencing some difficulties with the board and finances and staying afloat. And so we needed them and they needed us and so what you do to support each other in arts organizations is you support each other and they merged together at that point,” Peters said. “At one point we were both the Wilmington Music School and the Delaware Music School, we were known by both names together while we were thinking of what we should be called now. And then of course, they came up with the Music School of Delaware.”

Peters explained several items that were displayed around the room, including a tote bag with the original motto, shirts showing the progression of the Delaware Music School and other memorabilia. She pointed out that the tote bag also included a statement that “music education makes a difference in the quality of our lives.”

“Wilmington started in 1924. Their enrollment was 70 students at the beginning where he we were about 38 or 39 students int the beginning. Their stated goal in 1924 was to “provide high quality music education to students of all economic backgrounds,” Peters said.

After providing the background of the Delaware Music School, Peters asked a few trivia questions. One was about a unique fund raiser held at Cape Henlopen State Park.

“We had a Kazoo-A-Thon with our director at the time, Fran, offering to teach kazoo for free,” Peters said. “In 1981, the rate for a half hour lesson here was only $7. When we first started here, there was just me, Brenda Beisel, our secretary and premium fundraiser, and Joanne Burbage, our financial person.”

After Peters spoke at the Milford event, a live stream of the Wilmington gala was viewed. The Music School of Delaware will hold an 18 month long celebration of their centennial.

“Over the next 18 months, we invite you to connect with yourself, your emotions and your community through music, stories and songs, with concerts, meetings, conversations and reflections presented by the School of Music – opportunities to learn, grow, to think and be inspired,” Stephen Beaudoin, MBA, CEO and President of the Music School said. In September, we will announce a “101 for the year 2025birthday concert series that brings musical connections to communities across the state. We will also celebrate our history by highlighting the people and organizations on whose shoulders we proudly stand.”

To learn more about the Music School of Delaware, visit

Share this Post