Village Music School offers summer courses, scholarships

CORNWALL – In 1986, musician and entrepreneur Kevin Dolan started a small music education business, offering classes to children and adults.

The business became Musical Associates, owned and operated by Dolan and a team of professional musician teachers. His wife, Joséphine Cannella, taught music in Avon public schools. Eventually, Musical Associates became the village music school. When Cannella retired in 2019, she joined her husband and became the principal of the school.

Since the founding of the village music school, Dolan’s goal has always been simple: to provide music education to children in first and second grades using a letter system, not notes, to encourage the child to become familiar with the keys of the piano or the strings of a guitar. They quickly learn simple tunes, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

By continuing with classes and practicing at home with their parents, by the time children reach third grade, they are ready to learn to read music. Dolan has also created a Village Music School Foundation, to provide funding for children whose families cannot afford to pay for classes.


To change direction

Before the pandemic hit Connecticut, the school, which does not have a physical location, offered classes to follow-up programs in local school districts.

“The business model we use is that we partner with aftercare programs and provide group instruction to groups of four to eight children,” Dolan said. “School ends at 3:00 pm, and if a mom works until 5:00 pm, she looks for providers like us to offer enrichment programs. “

Dolan sometimes partnered with a parent-teacher organization, which subsidized music lessons for students; or directly with a school district.

After the state closed public schools in March of this year in response to the coronavirus, the Village Music School had to change its teaching method and chose a virtual format with the same pedagogical approach.

“With the pandemic, follow-up programs are no longer on the map,” Dolan said. “This year we have also decided, since we have the basics, to offer lessons at a reduced price, recognizing that music lessons can be a burden on families.”

This year, the school is offering scholarships to families enrolled in the state’s free or discounted lunch program for low-income families. “We were going to partner with an educational program (like EdAdvance in Litchfield) but it didn’t work, so we decided to do it ourselves,” Dolan said.

Needs-based scholarships come from the foundation. Scholarships are determined using a sliding scale for families in Litchfield County who participate in free and discounted meal programs.

The village music school now offers four-week small-group online music education sessions for beginning musicians aged 5 to 12. Registrations for the weekly guitar, violin and piano lessons are now open. At the end of the session, students can participate in an informal virtual recital.

“The discounted option for families on the state’s free or discounted lunch program also applies to instrument rentals,” Dolan said. “So if a family comes to us and says, ‘We’re on the lunch program,’ we’ll have them sign a waiver to verify it with their school. “

Dolan’s system

Teaching young children to play an instrument is a process Dolan has perfected over the past 15 to 20 years. It is built on the idea of ​​learning notes using the alphabet instead of reading the music itself. “The most important thing we want to stress is that by using our program a child can come home after the first lesson and play something for mom,” he said. “With the piano, instead of using notes, we use the alphabet, and right away they can play the first bar of ‘Brother John’ or ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. The kids come to us and want to play the piano, and we’re going to teach them to do that, but not to read music. It will come later.

Dolan tells his teachers to remember how to teach a child. “From the first lesson they need to feel successful, and that will inspire them to practice and become proficient,” he said. “I tell my (instructors) all the time; if you teach an individual lesson, you have a job, and that is to understand how the child learns.

“For group lessons, it’s easier for a young child to learn,” Dolan said. “They can move around, listen to the teacher and be with other children. And we can offer these courses at a price that shouldn’t scare anyone. We made it very affordable.

In-person lessons are the most ideal way to teach, but Dolan is excited about the possibilities of using distance learning. “At this point, with COVID-19, we can do it nationwide,” he said. “We have a group of classes with two kids from Goshen, starting next week with three kids from Washington, DC. We can form groups from all over the country.

“It’s not the ideal delivery method, to have virtual lessons, but it’s the only way we can do it right now,” said the founder of the school. “Of course, it’s always best if the kids are in the room with us. “

One of the school’s biggest challenges, Dolan said, is getting people to enroll. “In this (pandemic) environment, our analysis is that people are just afraid – of losing their jobs, of having money.”

This summer, guitar, violin and piano lessons are forming now, and registration for a four-week package is $ 99. Small group lessons last 30 to 45 minutes and rental instruments are available for $ 15 per 4 week session. In-person instruction in after-school programs will return this fall and students will have the option to continue virtual lessons.

The faculty at the village music school, Dolan said, share both a deep knowledge of their art and a love of teaching. Instructors include Carter Huntley, who has a Masters in Guitar from Yale University, and Patrick Dillery, a flautist who has performed and taught around the world. Other faculty members include saxophonist Gottfried Stoger, percussionist Bob Meyer and Sarah Jane Cion, who won first place in the 17th Annual Great American Jazz Piano Competition.

To learn more about the school, visit www.thevms.org and Facebook. For more information, registration and scholarship information visit www.thevms.org/online-classes, or call the director of the village music school, Joséphine Cannella, at 860-212-6990.


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