A Grand Opening: A look back at the first six months of the Cunningham Piano Music School
The Beginning--Where Do We Even Start? We've been seeing students for six months, but the truth is, the Cunningham Piano Music School has been a work-in-progress for over a year. We didn't quite know where to begin. One thing that we know was that we wanted to offer private lessons with excellent teachers. And there we found our starting point: building our staff. We had to find teachers that would fit in with our musical and educational goals: we want to nurture a love of music and foster talent for students of all ages and levels--and it is surprisingly difficult to find teachers that are able to help us meet those goals. We wanted degreed musicians who were able to push a student to be the best players that they could be, without pushing them so far that they started to resent their lessons. It's a fine balance, to teach a complicated subject but still foster a real love for the subject, and still keep that subject exciting. We have been lucky enough to work with a staff that helps students excel as musicians and as individuals. These teachers all have their own unique way of approaching teaching music, and we are able to match our students with the teacher who fits them best. They helped shape the school's mission: to enrich the lives of our students, our educators, and our community by providing the mentorship, methods, and motivation needed to lead a musical life. The teachers were also very interested in providing a unique approach utilizing personal attention, artistic freedom, and community engagement to find out what that exactly 'leading a musical life' means for the school and it's students. Welcoming Students In--and Welcoming Their Feedback We started seeing students in the middle of the summer of 2017, a month before our official Grand Opening in September of 2017. Our group classes began shortly after that. After our students began their lessons and classes, they spoke to us about what they wanted and needed from our programming, and we listened. For example: this semester, we have revamped our Show Choir to include master-class style seminars that work on other aspects of being a musical theatre performer--audition etiquette, how to navigate college audition season, dance intensive seminars, acting intensive seminars, seminars on comedic improvisation and comedic timing, and the like. Ms. Beatrice Osborne, our Show Choir Program's director, wanted to make sure that our interest became about more than just the performance, but in the whole performer. Were we doing the best we could to make sure that all of our students were more adapt performers than they were when they walked in our front door? Perhaps at the time, but we pride ourselves in always striving to do better. Another one of our group classes saw a large expansion this semester--our Early Ears Developmental Music Program. This program's content was perfect for our students last semester. Our tiniest musicians and their families adored having class with Ms. Lauren Lucerne. We did realize, though, that a class card would be helpful. We now offer two options to purchase Early Ears--students can purchase packages of classes on a class card OR reserve their spot and purchase the whole semester. We are also working to offer multiple class times so no one schedule has to make them miss out on our fantastic parent-child music class. Keeping Our Private Lessons Program Extraordinary Our private lessons are second-to-none. We are able to work with people with beginners all the way up to advanced students, we are able to work with people with special needs and disabilities, and our teachers are able to work on a variety of musical styles with a variety of teaching methods. With a talented staff like the one that we have, it's no wonder that our private lessons program is constantly growing. We were able to welcome an amazing new teacher, Sirapat Jittapirom, into the school. Her presence adds a young, exciting new teacher with her own musical experiences and own approach and music education, AND she adds availability for more students to take lessons. She is now covering Tuesday afternoon, and she has already started with some wonderful students who have nothing but great things to say about her. Some of our amazing teachers from our first semester have extended their availability--Kat Bowman, in particular, has a very full Tuesday afternoon with her adult beginner and adult intermediate students, and still has several spots available on Tuesday morning and afternoon to teach. Hanna Salmon and Hayley Wieland are both working with students of all ages--both of them have studios that start with beginners as young as 5 and go all the way up to adults who are piano teachers themselves, just looking to brush up with some professionals. Hanna has several open spots on both Thursday and Friday that she was kind enough to open up for us. Our voice department is expanding--Sean Burman and Elisabeth Galassini are taking more students this semester, and both of them excited to prepare students for the spring musical audition season and college auditions. Our travel program is wonderful--Isaac Young, Lee Milhous, and Renee Drezner have been working tirelessly with their students outside of our school (note: travel lessons are only in certain zipcodes--please inquire with the school if you are eligible for a travel lesson). We are so incredibly proud of our private lessons program and the growth we have seen in our school due to our teachers. It's been thrilling to see growth in our students as well! Jeremiah McCray, who is one of our younger students, went from a basic beginner with Hayley Wieland to being able to play two-hand pieces. Lois Cariola, an adult student of Hanna Salmon, is a piano teacher herself and has done wonderful things to improve her technique since starting with us. Lois said of lessons with Hanna: "There just is no limit to her resourcefulness. I'm attempting things I never thought I could do because she has been able to show me different ways to
. I look forward to every lesson." We here at the school have seen Lois's growth as well--she is working through some difficult repertoire and is playing it through musically and beautifully.
The Cunningham Piano Music School is thrilled to be partnering with several organizations this semester. We are happy to donate teachers and time to the PLAI in Philadelphia, who work with low-income performers, disabled performers, and performers who's differences from other people have made it difficult for them to mount their work. They are now starting a program for children in Philadelphia who use the arts as a form of self-expression to help them grow into teens and adults, but have suffered from cuts to arts programs in the Philadelphia School District. This program will sponsored by the PLAI and tailor made with child-development specialists to be geared toward at-risk children in the city seeking arts education. The Cunningham Piano Music School is thrilled to provide educators to these children in this exciting endeavor.
We are also continuing what we've been doing right here in King of Prussia. The Cunningham Piano Music School Early Ears Developmental Music Program is offering fundraisers to organizations in the area--Ms. Lauren is excited to host an Early Ears drop-in class for local churches and organizations. She and the organizations are asking participating families to pay a drop-in fee to come to her parent-child music class for young children, and she is donating the profit of those classes to the host organization.
Ms. Beatrice is visiting several schools this week to lead a fun seminar on improvisational acting, musical improvisation, and how those and other performance practices could and should be applied to all creative endeavors--including just regular school choir! Other teachers of the school will continue donating their time to the libraries in Upper and Lower Merion, reading the students a book during reading time and incorporating a music lesson into the reading.
During May, our students will be collecting for Dignity Housing in North West Philadelphia as a school-wide Mother's Day service project.
So What's Next?
We're looking into the next six month and the next six years and the next six decades with nothing but excitement. We're thrilled to be expanding how we can help make music a part of our community's life and community a part of our musician's life, we're excited to see how our students continue to grow in talent and musicianship, and we're looking forward to continuing to welcome new teachers and students into the school every week!
Thank you to all our students, teachers, and the administrative support of the Cunningham Piano Company for what we've done this far--we know you'll love where we go from here.
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