June 30, 2015

New island music academy is one artist's 'divine inspiration'


Passion is the fuel that drives an artist’s creative engines, the impetus to spend the estimated 10,000 hours it takes to truly master a difficult craft.  While some artists tend to be more passionate about themselves, the best artists understand that it is the work at hand that is important and that inspiration is indeed the spark of the divine.

Such is the case with professional musician Jessie Taylor of Avon and her vision for the Cape Hatteras Music Academy, which will begin providing musical instruction for Hatteras Island youth in the fall. Taylor’s motto is “What we are is God’s gift to us, what we become is our gift to God.”  She is quick to credit divine inspiration for the new musical venture.

“My husband and I moved here in 2011. I was originally teaching Suzuki violin group lessons, and sometime in March the idea of the academy came to me. As soon as I thought about getting started, everything fell into place, like a door opened, “she said, laughing.  “I believe in the Lord, and it was like an assignment from God, like He was saying, ‘You’ve finally grown up enough, you’re finally at a point in your life where you can give back, and the time is right.'”

Taylor explained that she and her husband, Patrick Donnelly, both natives of Virginia Beach, had lived on the Outer Banks twice prior to moving the third time, once in the summer of 2005 and again in the winter of 2007.  Taylor, like many young people who come to the Outer Banks, had worked in the hospitality industry, but decided to make a go of playing and teaching music full time.

Taylor plays music with her husband weekly at the Rodanthe Pier, and each Sunday is the worship leader at A Mighty Wind United Methodist Church in Kill Devil Hills, which meets at the First Flight Middle School.  There, Taylor chooses and plays contemporary Christian praise music, accompanying herself on guitar and occasionally violin.

The transition from performing and offering private lessons to group instruction offered challenges for Taylor, the first of which was to procure curriculum for the academy. Classes demanded more structure than a completely individualized, private format.  It was then that she began investigating several programs of study.

“Amidst my research for finding the best curriculum to offer, I was excited to learn about different ways to teach music.  I honestly felt like I was going back to school during this research period,” Taylor said.

The basis of her instructional methods were developed by Zoltan Kodaly, a Hungarian composer who developed an age-appropriate approach to teaching young children, based upon what they are developmentally capable of grasping.  Akin to the “Do-Re-Mi” song from "The Sound of Music," this instructional technique strives to create an atmosphere similar to a child’s world of play and relies on easily learned folk songs as a basis for instruction in violin, cello, guitar, ukulele, and singing classes.

In particular, Taylor chose a violin curriculum offered by Mark O’Connor, a fiddler known for his achievements in the bluegrass genre who has also recorded with classical cello player Yoyo Ma in several projects.

While the Suzuki method utilizes classical pieces and stresses repetition, rote memory and playing “by ear,” O’Connor’s approach is markedly different.  He describes utilizing music of America as the basis of instruction and has students begin with songs like "Amazing Grace," "When the Saints Come Marching In," and other American folk standards. 

According to Taylor, the simple and compelling melodies make learning the violin much more accessible, vitally important in mastering the violin, arguably one of the most difficult stringed instrument to play well.

“The music is so easy to learn you could do it without music, but I encourage learning to read at the same time so that the literacy is there.  With the Suzuki method, you don’t learn how to read, so students who later might want to join an orchestra wouldn’t be able to because they would lack the ability to read music,” Taylor said.

The Orff Method, named after Carl Orff, a German composer from the early 20th century,  is the main method for the music for babies and toddlers, and music and games classes for children ages 2 through 6. Much like the Kodaly Method, this type of instruction combines music, movement, drama, and speech that appeal to a child’s natural love of play, and allows for improvisation of the music as well.

A visit to Taylor’s website shows one such class, with a small group of youngsters bubbling and bouncing in dance to music from "The Nutcracker Suite."  By the end of the session, the children have absorbed the same basic choreography one sees in professional productions with the only “instruction,” the encouragement of the instructor and the innate desire of young people to mimic what they see others say and do.  This, according to Taylor, is no accident.

“There is a huge emphasis on having fun in each class, while embracing each child’s individuality and creativity.  The classes for babies through age 6 incorporate the use of hand-held instruments, a large 40-inch gathering drum, interactive puppets, visuals and repetitive songs,” Tayor explained.

The ebullient Taylor learned music the traditional way, taking private lessons from age 9 to about age 16 on violin. All the while, a love of musical education has been simmering in Taylor’s blood.  She recalls her music teacher asking her to speak to the school board, busy trying to save money by cutting the music program.

“I remember being in middle school in sixth or seventh grade, talking to the school board and trying to explain why I loved orchestra so much. Imagine me trying to convince them to save the program,” she said, laughing again.  “I said, ‘Please don’t take arts away, this is what I’m good at!’”

According to Taylor, the deeply personal nature of musical instruction is needed now more than ever to balance the increasingly strident emphasis on standardized testing in many public schools. Like all good teachers, she is excited for the opportunity to learn right along with her students.

Classes are set up in 12-week semesters.  The first semester runs from Sept. 22 -  Dec. 19.  The second semester runs from Jan. 4 - March 26.  At the end of each semester, there will be a concert to show off what the children have been learning and rewards are also handed out.  In addition, there will be a two-day workshop in May and a week long summer camp in July.

The cost for the classes is $150 per semester.  Payment options are available as well, and there will be informational meetings on July 1 and July 8 at Cape Hatteras Secondary School  at 7 p.m. Registration will follow both meetings.
More information and class schedules are posted on the Cape Hatteras Music Association website at www.capehatterasmusicacademy.com.

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