Club Adds to its Outreach Projects by Launching an Exciting Piano Program

By Myra Williams

With funding provided by the Fernando Family to honor the memory of former director and pianist Laura Fernando, who passed away in January in 2011, the Club initiated an exciting piano program in February, 2012. The project director was Judy Evans, a Naples Music Club director who also serves as an educational consultant to public schools and is an Adjunct Professor at FGCU.

Piano class at Golden Elementary

Both programs, one at Golden Gate Elementary and a second at Bonita Springs Middle School, were offered after school to economically disadvantaged children. Approximately 36 students participated in the program this year: Golden Terrace had three classes, twice a week, 30 minutes each; Bonita had one class, once a week, for 50 minutes. Click on photo to enlarge.

We have been evaluating the impact of the program, and the results are more positive than we ever anticipated at this early stage. As part of our evaluation, representatives of the Naples Music Club (Judy Evans, Anne McLean, Richard Bosworth, and I) visited the piano classes at Golden Terrace Elementary School toward the end of the school year. We saw students who, even though they had studied for only a few months, volunteered to perform for us and spoke freely about what the classes meant to them. Afterwards, our concert pianists provide the following comments:

From Concert Pianist and Educator Anne McLean: “My colleagues and I were very impressed with this program and with the gifted instructor, who is very skilled at managing the children and designing the curriculum. In my opinion, a program such as this is crucial in bringing many positive elements to under-privileged children, including an appreciation of culture, exposure to creative problem solving, enlargement of their social skills, a boost of self-esteem and a safe environment for learning after school with their peers.”

From Concert Pianist Richard Bosworth: “I could see there was an emotional connection between the students and their teacher. There was just the right balance between discipline and nurture, which allowed the students to learn new concepts without feeling self-conscious. This kind of important outreach creates and fosters an awareness of what music really means to our culture.”

The teachers involved were very pleased with the results as well. Leah Hassell, a graduate of the Bower School of Music with a major in piano, is the Bonita Springs Middle School instructor who taught the piano program at her school, where, during the school day, her teaching assignment includes chorus, orchestra and guitar. She was so excited to be able to offer keyboard to her students and hopes to expand the program next year. Here are her comments:

“My piano class enrollment consisted of 6th grade students who were in either my orchestra or chorus classes. All the students in the class would not be able to afford lessons on their own and the only reason they could take my orchestra or chorus is because they did not have to rent instruments or pay extra to be in the class. I noticed a definite change in all the students in the piano class. Four of the students were some of the shyest in all my classes; I could see their confidence increase as well as their musical abilities. One student went from being the quietest in my choir to the most confident, and at the last concert she had every word memorized and led the choir when they forgot the words. Another student who speaks so quietly I can barely hear her asked to play a solo on her cello for a concert and did amazingly. All of the students spoke up more in class, understood theory better and increased their musical independence. The piano is perfect for creating well-rounded independent musicians, and my students benefited from learning from this instrument in many ways.”

Marissa De Andres, the instructor at Golden Elementary, who normally sees every student once a week for 50 minutes, says the piano program gave her the opportunity to get to know her students better, making it possible for them to make great strides. She commented, “Very quickly into the piano program, I noticed my shy students were coming out of their shells in and out of class. Students that were struggling in music class were actually understanding the material and excelling in music class. One student in particular would never sing alone during the regular school music class. By the end of the school year, she was one of my strongest 2nd grade singers and was not afraid of playing new instruments or trying new things. I also had a student who hated going to music class before taking piano. He later told me that the reason he hated music is because he was never good at anything in music class, but he realized that he was good at the piano. He actually was my best piano student this year and began to excel in music class also.”

Note: Read more about the Club’s Outreach Projects.