School of Music welcomes new head of Milford campus
by Terry Rogers
Mary Jane Vanvestraut has only been the director of the Milford branch for the Delaware School of Music for a few months, but she hopes to help the school become a stronger member of the Milford community. Its goals are to guide the Southern Delaware School of Music through events such as festivals and other activities in Milford.
“The biggest challenge I think I face is becoming more visible in the community and creating a face for the organization,” Vanvestraut said. “I also want to prove that musical education is a necessity in the lives of children and adults alike. I’ve only been in this position for a little while so far, and most of it has been intensive training, but hopefully that’s the direction we’ll be heading in the near future.
Vanvestraut grew up in Centerville, Maryland, taking up the piano around age nine or ten. She then started playing the clarinet in the school orchestra where her love of music grew. She attended Mansfield, University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a degree in music business with a focus on management. She laughed that she didn’t come from a musical family, although she convinced her little sister to join the band for a few years. Vanvestraut moved to Delaware to be closer to his grandparents.
“My husband got a position as District Manager for Sussex County for the Boy Scouts,” Vanvestraut said. “I got this job around the same time, so it worked out well. I love Delaware, and having grown up on the east coast of Maryland, we’ve been to Delaware many times, mostly to the Middletown area, but I’ve always liked Milford and Milton because it’s more artsy and cute.”
When she began her studies in music education, Vanvestraut felt she wanted to make music more accessible to children. She thought she would be more successful if she worked in arts management or administration. Once she made that decision, she redirected her studies with the goal of working for a non-profit organization that would make music more affordable and accessible to children who otherwise couldn’t play an instrument. . She saw the music school opening and laughed thinking she applied on the second day of the opening.
Early musical education of children is very important, according to Vanvestraut.
“The music school offers programs for children as young as 18 months old, while children can start violin lessons at age three,” Vanvestraut said. “Most children start learning instruments between the ages of six and seven, but the earlier they are involved in music, the sooner they will move on to other subjects. There’s a lot of math involved. There’s a lot of English and languages involved in the music, so the sooner the better.
It can be difficult to keep kids interested in music, Vanvestraut explained. She said private lessons are the best way to keep kids focused on instruments and music. A child who suddenly loses interest in an instrument may simply play at a higher level than the other students in the group, which can lead to boredom. Through private lessons, they can play music they love that is more stimulating while participating in a school band at a lower level.
“Children and adults who already play an instrument can move on to other instruments,” Vanestraut said. “But it depends on the instrument. For example, I started on the clarinet and was able to switch to the saxophone quite easily. However, if you’re moving from one family of instruments to another, it can be difficult. The clarinet is totally different from the French horn. But, I think if someone has a thing for music and wants to learn, they could. It would be easier if they could read music and musical notation, things like that.
Music playback is another factor that can determine how far someone goes with an instrument. Vanvestraut explained that most musicians in bands and orchestras can read music, but not all singers are able to. People also learn guitar, ukulele or drums and many never learn to read music.
Parents whose kids are home from school and want to join a band should talk to the child before agreeing to buy an instrument, Vanvestraut said. Too often kids join a band and drop out a few months later, either because the instrument they chose was too difficult or they just didn’t like 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 likes jazz, remember that a jazz band usually doesn’t have clarinets or flutes, so a saxophone might be a better choice. Many music stores here will allow you to rent an instrument for a few months to see if your child likes it. But to not be a pusher, private lessons are really the way to go. You don’t even need an entire semester of classes. We offer six lesson packs that allow someone to take just six lessons to see if they like the instrument.
Vanvestraut also said he supports a child who appears to be struggling with an instrument. Too often, parents persist because they paid for an instrument. Instead, consider talking to the music store about switching to something the child might enjoy more.
“It depends on the person,” Vanvestraut said when asked if adults have more difficulty learning an instrument than a child. “I have seen adults progress much faster than children in learning an instrument. It’s probably because of the attention span and the fact that you sometimes have to do things you don’t want to do. Adults usually want to learn the instrument, they spend their time and money on it, whereas children, it’s not their money or time yet if they have to do it in school anyway, so it’s just a greater sense of dedication from mature students.
In addition to the Milford location, the 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.