Often times activities are referred to as, “character builders.” Sports, more often then not, are noted for building character, if not revealing it. Going through the trials and tribulations of building anything with one’s hands is said to build character within people, as well. Students and instructors at Settlement Music School in Germantown, however, learned that building character and following their passion were one in the same.
“All of our faculty members love the environment that [Settlement Music School] provides,” said Eric Anderson, director of the Germantown branch of Settlement Music School. “It isn’t just music here. Kids learn life at Settlement.”
In addition to the individual music lessons offered at Settlement Music School, many programs featured an ensemble or public performance as part of the curriculum to help students overcome anxiety.
“Students are never forced to perform,” Anderson said. “We try to involve students in ensemble activities as much as possible, because it really only furthers their interest and their skill. If they do volunteer, we always have free admission so they can invite family and friends to make it a very memorable occasion.”
Many classes and lessons help individuals gain skills which aren’t normally found in a traditional setting.
“I think one of the best things about the school is it shows the students real-life musician problems,” said Michael Koehler, a guitar instructor. “They may lose their music or have equipment problems out at a gig. This teaches you how to deal with it and it’s rewarding to see them learn.”
Settlement Music School has also helped out aspiring musicians with problems that are not as common, through their music therapy program. This agenda primarily aims to help improve a student’s physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of their life through music.
“I feel there is a huge need for what we do,” said Aileen Bunch, a music therapy instructor. “Music is such a great medium for us to reach these kids who sometimes just want to play music and have fun.”
Settlement Music School has also offered other programs, such as dance therapy and a new program for preschoolers, Kaleidoscope. This art program welcomes preschoolers three to five times a week to learn through art, music and dance. Often times the children enrolled in the class are those who qualified for Head Start, a program which offers aid to pre-kindergarten students from low-income families.
“We’re really proud of our partnerships with other organizations,” Anderson said. “It allows our students or members of these programs to work together for everyone’s best interests.”
The school has offered scholarships and financial aid to perspective students. Scholarships at Settlement are awarded to students who have shown a passion and dedication to music. Most often, they are equated to extra individual lesson time for the students with an instructor. Financial aid, however, is given out based on need to students of low-income families.
“What [Settlement] offers is two-thirds cost reduction in tuition for lessons,” Anderson said. “What we don’t do, is offer any classes for free. This helps the students put more of a value on what they’re doing here. It helps them understand why they shouldn’t just throw it away.”
With an increased attendance of nine percent, Settlement’s approach seems to be working. This is especially important for the school, as it received 56 percent of its funding from tuition and fees associated with their classes.
“I’ve been extremely pleased with the school,” said Yongmei Li, mother of two children in attendance at Settlement Music School. “The kids have fun and work hard. It becomes great character building for them.”
In one particular case, the investment into Settlement Music School became a family affair.
“My son, Ian, takes piano lessons here and I actually decided to take voice lessons after he started. It’s been great for everyone,” Michael Lynch said. “I think that everyone needs a creative outlet.”
A student’s journey through Settlement Music School leaves an impact on more than just their own family. The face-to-face interviewing procedures and the one-on-one instructor time has left a lasting affect on the Settlement staff as well.
“When you’ve been with the school for a significant period of time, it is particularly rewarding to go from seeing their first faltering steps when they are starting out, to see how they develop over time and where they go,” Anderson said. “Our hope is we get to see them turn into pretty amazing adults.”
– Text, video and images by Matt Snider.