by Terry Rogers
Mary Jane Vanvestraut has only been the Milford Branch Director for the Music School of Delaware for a few months but she hopes to help the school become a stronger member of the Milford community. Her goals are to guide the Music School in southern Delaware through events like festivals and other activities in Milford.
“The biggest challenge I think I will face is becoming more visible in the community and creating a face for the organization,” Vanvestraut said. “I also want to prove that music education is a necessity in the lives of children as well as adults. I’ve only been in the position for a little bit so far, and most of it has been heavily training, but I’m hopeful this is the direction we will go into in the near future.”
Vanvestraut grew up in Centerville, Maryland, starting piano when she was around nine or ten. She then began playing clarinet in the school band where her love of music grew. She attended Mansfield, University of Pennsylvania, earning a degree in music business with a focus on management. She laughed that she did not come from a musical family, although she did convince her little sister to join band for a few years. Vanvestraut moved to Delaware to be closer to her grandparents.
“My husband got a job as the District Executive for Sussex County for the Boy Scouts,” Vanvestraut said. “I got this job about the same time, so it just worked out. I do love Delaware and, growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, we’ve been to Delaware often, basically the Middletown area, but I have always loved Milford and Milton because it is more artsy and cute.”
When she began her studies in music education, Vanvestraut felt she wanted to make music more accessible for children. She felt that she would have more success if she was in arts management or administration. Once she made that decision, she shifted her degree focus with the goal of working for a non-profit organization that would make music more affordable and more accessible to children who may not otherwise be able to play an instrument. She saw the opening at the Music School and laughed that she thinks she applied the second day it was open.
Early music education for children is very critical, according to Vanvestraut.
“The Music School offers programs for children as young as 18 months while children can begin violin lessons at three,” Vanvestraut said. “Most children begin learning instruments between six and seven, but the sooner they are involved in music, the sooner they will pick up other subjects. There is a lot of math involved. There’s a lot of English and language involved in music, so the earlier the better.”
It can be difficult to keep children interested in music, Vanvestraut explained. She stated that private lessons are the best way to keep children focused on instruments and music. A child who is suddenly not interested in an instrument may simply be playing at a higher level than other students in band which can lead to boredom. Through private lessons, they can play music they enjoy that is more challenging while still participating in school band at a lower level.
“Children and adults who are already playing an instrument can transition to other instruments,” Vanestraut said. “But it does depend on the instrument. For instance, I started on the clarinet and was able to switch to saxophone fairly easily. If you go between instrument families, however, it can be challenging. The clarinet is totally different than the French horn. But, I think if someone is musically inclined and want to learn, they could do that. It would be easier if they could read music and music notation, things like that.”
Reading music is another factor that can determine how far someone goes with an instrument. Vanvestraut explained that most band and orchestral musicians can read music, but not all singers are able to do so. People also teach themselves guitar, ukulele or drums and many never learn to read music.
Parents whose children come home from school and want to sign up for band should talk to the child before they agree to buy an instrument, Vanvestraut said. Too often, children sign up for band and quit a few months later, either because the instrument they chose was too difficult or they simply did not enjoy playing it.
“Have them listen to different instruments to see what they sound like,” Vanvestraut said. “Let them listen to different types of music, finding types with different instruments. If someone loves jazz, remember that a jazz band does not usually have clarinets or flutes, so a saxophone may be a better choice. Many of the music stores around here will let you rent an instrument for a few months to see if your child enjoys it. But not to be a pusher, private lessons are really the way to go. You don’t even need a whole semester of lessons. We offer six packs of lessons that allow someone to just take six lessons to see if they enjoy the instrument.”
Vanvestraut also said to be supportive of a child who seems to be struggling with an instrument. Too often, parents dig in their heels because they paid for an instrument. Instead, consider talking to the music store about changing to something else that the child may enjoy more.
“It depends on the person,” Vanvestraut said when asked if adults had more difficulty learning an instrument than a child. “I’ve seen adults progress much faster than children when learning an instrument. That’s likely because of attention span and the knowledge that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. Adults usually want to learn the instrument, they’re dedicating their time and money toward that, whereas kids, it is not their money and not their time yet if they have to do it in school anyway, so it’s just a greater sense of dedication from adult students.”
In addition to the Milford location, Music School of Delaware also has a location in Wilmington as well as satellite locations in Hockessin, Landsdowne, Skyline (Wilmington), Newark, Dover and Lewes. Contact the Milford branch by calling 302-422-2043.
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