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Beware of Summer Learning Loss!

avoid summer learning loss in music

We've been waiting for it all year, and finally it's here: summer vacation is a wonderful time to relax, get a break from the daily grind, and visit beautiful and interesting places near and far.  It's healthy for us, physically and emotionally, to take time out and replenish our energies!

However, you may want to think twice before taking the entire summer off.  Unfortunately, the flip side of long vacations is learning loss, which is a serious problem among school children nationwide.  A quick search on the internet pulls up the following definition of the term: "Summer learning loss is the loss in academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer vacation. The loss in learning varies across grade level, subject matter, and family income. A common finding across numerous studies is that on average, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning of summer (on the same test). Summer loss for all students is estimated to be equal to about 1 month (Cooper 1996), but this varies across subject matter:
Mathematics - 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency loss
Reading- Varies across SES. Low income students generally lose about 2 months of reading achievement. Middle income students experience slight gains in reading performances" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_learning_loss)

Furthermore, according to the same article: "Two-thirds of the academic achievement gap in reading and language found among high school students has been explained through the learning loss that occurs during the summer months of the primary school years." 

This is rather alarming. But parents aware of this problem are in a position to minimize or avoid the problem altogether by making sure that educational activities will not completely disappear from their children's summer schedules.

Summer learning loss is also a big problem for many music lesson students.  At Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, we have seen in past years how students taking the entire summer off had a hard time in their September lessons, due to serious summer learning loss.  Some of the young beginners come back in fall, not remembering where the notes are on the keyboard or fingerboard. In some cases, teachers spend up to a month to help students restore the knowledge and skills they had acquired by the end of the past spring semester.  On occasion, the experience has been so frustrating to the student that he or she decided to drop out of the program--the ultimate sacrifice of summer learning loss.  Financially, too, summer learning loss is a burden because in order to recover lost knowledge and skills, students are paying for essentially the same education twice.

What to Do About It?

At Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, we offer ongoing summer lessons to help students avoid learning loss, and indeed progress even further over the summer months. At the same time, we recognize the need to take summer breaks. To reconcile the two, we prorate tuition for up to two summer lessons, so that you can enjoy your well-deserved, relaxing break.  To schedule a complimentary Trial Lesson, call (908) 782-4943

HAA Becomes 2nd Largest Trinity Guildhall Centre in U.S.

Twice a year, Hunterdon Academy of the Arts hosts Trinity Guildhall music examinations.  Whereas fall-semester exams focus exclusively on music theory, students spend the spring semester gearing up for the Graded Exams in music performance, offered in May.  The Graded Exams are administered by a professional examiner from London, who visits all Trinity Guildhall Centres in the U.S. to test students on their command of the Trinity Guildhall curriculum.  Subject areas include the performance of prepared music, sight-reading skills, as well as technical skills on the instrument.

This year's visiting examiner was Mr. John Humphreys, a kind man, and aficionado,

John Humphreys,Trinity Guildhall Examiner

 collector, and well-known authority of the French Horn.  Mr. Humphreys stayed with us from May 24 through May 26 to hear more than 70 applicants from various parts of New Jersey as well as from out of state.  We were absolutely thrilled to learn from him that after doubling the number of student participants this past year, Hunterdon Academy of the Arts is now among the top Trinity Guildhall Centres in the U.S., second only to the Baltimore, MD Centre!  

This year's examinees were mainly pianists, guitarists, and singers.  With very few exceptions, all students passed their tests and and are now anxiously awaiting their Trinity Guildhall Certificates, including Mr. Humphrey's helpful comments on their performance.

With its nine graded exams ("Initial" through Grade 8) designed to become progressively more challenging, the Trinity Guildhall curriculum provides a wonderful motivational tool for lesson students of all ages.  Offering Trinity Guildhall training as an option, Hunterdon Academy of the Arts has been very successful in helping students become better musicians and improving the overall quality of its music lesson programs.

At the end of his demanding three-day marathon at HAA, we took Mr. Humphreys to the Tuscany Grill in Glen Gardner, where he concluded his stay with a delicious dinner and a big smile (see picture above).

Subscribe to our Blog to stay informed about the latest developments at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts! 

1,000 Cookies: HAA Celebrates Its 2010 Graduation (Part 2)

lesson students showing off their trophiesIn Part 1 of this blog article, we reported about our Kindermusik Continuation and Graduation ceremonies on May 15, when parents, grandparents, and proud teachers had a chance to see and hear their charming 5 to 7-year-olds in music-and-movement activities. You also learned where 350 of our cookies ended up--in happy little tummies of our proud Kindermusik students and their families. For the remainder of the present blog article, we'll tell you where the other 650 or so of the delicious treats went.

Following a short lunch break that same day, our staff moved to Stanton Reformed Church in Stanton to host our yearly recitals for advanced lesson students. Since our music lesson program had grown substantially this past year, we offered three two-hour recitals, at 1 PM, 3 PM, and 5 PM. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that so many of our students in the lesson program decided to participate in what used to be the dreaded "scary recital." This year, fear gave way to excitement and anticipation as our young performers were eagerly demonstrating what they had learned. 
PianoGuitarVoiceDrumViolinClarinet, Flute, Saxophone, and Trumpet students, and even a Rock Band presented samples of their skills, pulling in audiences to pack the church for all three performances!

Even though the recitals were a bit long (almost 2 hours each), audiences showed genuine interest in the programs performed by our students, and we received lots of praise in numerous follow-up e-mails and personal conversations with the families in attendance. Clearly, our students made fantastic progress--evidence that we've taken Hunterdon Academy of the Arts to the next level of excellence. This was the result of great team work: students, parents and teachers worked hand in hand to reach some important goals.

Throughout the three recitals, there was a marked improvement in the students' level of playing this year. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, we had taken a number of steps to raise expectations and deliver a better educational value to our students and parents. Additionally, we encouraged students and teachers to follow the Trinity Guildhall graded exams curriculum--a subject we'll talk more about in a future blog post. When following HAA's system of motivational incentives, students are more motivated to practice between lessons and consequently make much more progress.

But education at HAA is not just about music or art per se, much as we rejoice at the great artistic achievements of our students and faculty! Rather, we are strong believers in a holistic educational philosophy that seeks to nurture students' overall cognitive, emotional, and physical development through the arts.  Our students not only enjoy music-making, but through their studies and performance, they develop confidence, discipline, and mental focus.

As with our Kindermusik ceremonies in the morning, the highpoint of the recitals, at least for the students, was the awarding of the trophies. Trophies are a symbol of the hard work our students put into their musical development. When leaving the building, each student also picked up a goodie bag with cookies (oh, joy). Of the 1,000 cookies we had ordered for May 15 there were only very few left by the end of the day!

For the coming year, we have big plans. Subscribe to this blog to receive up to date information about upcoming new initiatives!

Distinguished Saxophone Teacher Joins HAA!

We are delighted to welcome Jordan P. Smith, a distinguished young artist, to the

saxophone lessonswoodwind faculty of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Jordan is a New York based saxophonist and conductor. His teachers have included Dr. Paul Cohen, Dr. John Sampen and Kathleen Mitchell (saxophone), and Dr. William Silvester (conducting).

Later this month Jordan is graduating with a Master of Music degree in Saxophone Performance from Manhattan School of Music. He previously completed a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from The College of New Jersey, and as of this coming fall semester will be a candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Classical Saxophone Performance at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, where he is studying with Dr. Paul Cohen. Jordan is currently on faculty at the French Woods Festival for the Performing Arts, teaching theory, conducting the saxophone ensemble, and saxophone lessons.



Jordan has extensive performance experience. In the summer of 2007, Jordan traveled to Corfu, Greece where he gave several performances of solo and chamber works, and premiered Evolutions by Marilyn Shrude for the Corfu Festival Saxophone Ensemble. He was winner of the 2006-2007 TCNJ Concerto Competition and later performed Tomasi's Ballade for Saxophone and Orchestra with the TCNJ Orchestra. Jordan was also a selected soloist for the 2008 NYSMF recital series and a featured soloist with the NYSMF saxophone ensemble. Recently he has performed multiple times with The New World Symphony, the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, the Brooklyn College Orchestra, and the French Woods Orchestra. Recent performance venues have included the Metropolitan Museum of Art, St. Peters Citigroup Center in NYC, Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center, the Professional Children's School, Yale University, and the 2009 North American Saxophone Alliance Region 8 conference at West Virginia University. As an orchestral player he has performed works by Prokofiev, Copland, Bernstein, Gershwin, and more under such conductors as Michael Tilson Thomas, Robert Spano, and H. Robert Reynolds. Jordan has also been active as a chamber musician in New York City, having premiered works by composers such as Hayes Biggs, Remy Le Boeuf, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, and Matthew Hough. He recently premiered the Sonata for Tenor Saxophone and Piano by Steve Cohen written for Jordan himself, a saxophone quartet work entitled PollyPiano by Tamara Cashour, and a work for tenor saxophone entitled Reverie, Interrupted written for Jordan himself by composer/pianist James Adler. Jordan will soon be heard on Carrier Records for the premiere recording of Inhyun Kim's Saxophone Quartet.

Music Schools Flemington: Spring 2010 Survey Results (Part 1)

Every year we ask our families to participate in a brief survey. Though we maintain

Join the Best Music School in Flemington NJ!

 close contact with our teachers, students, and families throughout the year, this survey provides an additional forum for participants to let us know how we are doing as an institution. In our ongoing efforts to improve our programs and meet the needs of our students, we want to find out in which areas changes need to be made, and of course, we also enjoy receiving "pats on the back" and knowing where we have exceeded expectations.

The results of this year's survey are in and as in previous years, have been extremely positive. Judging by the responses, Hunterdon Academy of the Arts is on the right track in so many ways. We are extremely delighted to hear that we have provided our students and families with a music program that many respondents characterized as "
far better than other music schools." This is wonderful news indeed! Below are only a few of the glowing testimonials our families shared with us:

"Being a member of HAA has opened many opportunities for us as a family to enjoy music!! Thank you for always finding innovative ways of communicating with families with all current HAA musical events and news."

"Can't think of a way to improve the school!"

"Our class is a big highlight of our week. :-) Thank you."

Musikgarten Educator Ann Engberg ("Mrs. E") is a "wonderful teacher, my child LOVES her. She has a wonderful gift and shares it so expressively!"

Musikgarten Educator Francesca Panfilo-Milza, "Mrs P, is a fabulous teacher! She is energetic and fun and it is evident that the children respond positively to her teaching methods."

Musikgarten Educator Michele Collins is "approachable....Friendly....upbeat....prepared....structured....informative"

"[Our daughter] has learned more with [violin teacher] Dr. Hoffman than with any other teacher."

"Mrs. Peare has been a pleasure throughout our Keyboard Group class years"

"We're very satisfied with Mrs. Schmidt's [piano] teaching methods. She has been flexible when needed, recommending the appropriate grade level for taking the Trinity exam, providing sufficient material for practice and continuing to make lesson and practice time enjoyable. " 

"I love the Bel Cantos Program and Mrs. Nagy is an amazing director."

"Not only is [guitar teacher] Laura [Oltman] very talented, but she builds a wonderful rapport with her students. She's warm, patient, supportive, and knows when and how to push without discouraging her students. She's wonderful!" 


Of course, there is always room for improvement, so there were a few honest concerns expressed by some of our parents. To find out how we are addressing them, read "'Ins and Outs' of Music Practice: Spring 2010 Survey Results (Part 2)."

Music Lessons and the Family Budget

Though rates for private music lessons may vary between instructors and music schools, they tend to be higher than tuition rates for group classes.  Why?

As with almost anything else, you get what you pay for!  In the case of private lessons, your tuition dollars provide you with the undivided attention of your teacher, who tailors style and content of his or her instruction to meet your individual needs.  For many students, the individual lesson format provides the ideal learning environment to make progress as quickly as possible.  In that sense, a

keyboard lessons young child.jpgprivate lesson teacher is no different from your personal gym trainer, who makes sure that you do your exercises correctly for maximum benefit.

If we stick with the sports analogy for a moment, some of us are not particularly crazy about working one-on-one with a trainer, or working ourselves through all that exercise equipment at the gym, one machine at a time.  That can be tedious and a bit solitary at times.  By contrast, joining an aerobics class or a sports team to play soccer, football, basket ball, and what not, is an entirely different experience.  Although as members of a team, we may not be getting all that individualized attention, we're having fun, working collaboratively, laughing, and sharing victories and losses.  And on top of it, we're still toning those muscles and losing a few pounds!  Not bad at all.

When it comes to music education, it is similarly possible, and enjoyable, to learn within the socially interactive context of group classes.  Young beginners often express a strong preference for music classes not only because of the social interaction involved but because the group format offers them the most developmentally appropriate venue for absorbing information.  Young children may learn as much from observing each other as they learn from their designated teachers.  To be sure, for some kids, the group class format may be too stimulating and distracting.  Kids falling into this category will do better in music lessons under the guidance of an instructor, who focuses their attention and provides a firm structure for the learning process.  Parents should consult with their music teacher in choosing the option most suitable for the learning disposition of their child.

If after careful consideration you have reason to believe that your child may progress more easily through group instruction, why would you sign her up for private lessons?  And why, looking at your bottom line, would you invest the extra dollars on individual instruction before your child is actually ready to enjoy its full range of benefits?  Start young beginners age 4 through 8 in group classes as a high-quality, low-cost alternative to music lessons!  When given sufficient time to mature and learn, children are more likely to develop a life-long appreciation for music.  Isn't that what it's all about?

Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, Flemington 

Piano Lessons Flemington

Looking for Professional Piano Lessons in Flemington? Study with Dr. Lynda Saponara, the latest addition to our piano program!  Dr. Saponara, who receivedpiano lessons flemington.jpg her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Rutgers University, joins eight other piano instructors to meet the rising demands for piano and keyboard instruction at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Having previously held several university appointments, including at Rutgers, The College of New Jersey, New Jersey City University, and Wagner College, Dr. Saponara brings considerable knowledge and professional expertise to this community.

Why should you take piano lessons? The National Piano Foundation cites several university studies documenting the benefits of piano studies. Research conducted at McGill University in Montreal shows that "children who took piano lessons for three years scored higher than their peers on tests of general and spatial cognitive development - the very faculties needed for performance in math and engineering and other pursuits." Similarly, according to the University of California at Irvine, "students who took piano lessons along with computer puzzle-solving did better in math." For older students, too, piano studies can be very beneficial since they may reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. (For more information, visit The National Piano Foundation.)

New Music Teacher Appointments!

February 2010: We are delighted to have appointed three new music teachers: piano teacher.jpgMarisa Arzillo (voice and musical theatre), Alan Rigoletto (guitar), and Richard Woo (piano). Marisa is pursuing a distinguished career as a singer and operatic stage director. She has started teaching voice for us, and will take our Musical Theatre program to the next level. Though well versed in all guitar styles, Alan Rigoletto is coming to HAA with some significant expertise on the jazz guitar, as well as a semester of guitar studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst ("Academy of Music and Performing Arts") in Frankfurt, Germany. Lastly, currently pursuing a Master's degree at Westminster Choir College, Richard Woo is majoring in Piano Pedagogy/Performance and Music Education. In addition to his professional studies, he is also on the piano faculty of Westminster Conservatory of Music.

We warmly welcome Marisa, Alan, and Richard to our music faculty.  They will help us maintain our high standards of education and meet the demands of our growing lesson program!

Why Wouldn't You Sign up for Music Lessons!

Over the past two years, we have been listening carefully to our students and prospective students.  Their input has been invaluable in our efforts to optimize the way Hunterdon Academy of the Arts operates.  Many of our improvements in theguitar student.jpg area of music lessons have focused on making it easier for students to enter the program, and stay in it.  We thought it may be helpful to provide a brief summary of our responses to the most commonly voiced concerns about signing up for music lessons:

1. What if I find out only after signing up that I don't enjoy music lessons? As of February 2010, we have introduced a new lesson registration that is based on short-term commitment. You initially commit to a minimum of 5 weeks, after which you may either drop out or re-register automatically for the next month. But a word of caution: if you aren't a virtuoso after 5 weeks of lessons, do not automatically assume that lessons aren't for you. It takes time to become a master performer! You wouldn't expect to be a professional football, tennis, or baseball player after a month of training either, or would you?

2. What if my teacher and I don't "click"?  Very occasionally, that happens, but it is no problem from our point of view. We try to get it right from the start by offering you a free trial lesson with the teacher we believe to be the best match for you. If things don't quite work out as anticipated, we will be happy to transfer you to another teacher as long as we have spots available; we have a large faculty with multiple instructors in almost every field.

3. What if the time I signed up for isn't going to work with my schedule long-term? As long as we have other slots available, we'll be happy to provide you with more a convenient lesson time.

4. Do I have to buy an instrument if I sign up for lessons? No. But in order to make progress between lessons, you need to have access to an instrument for practice purposes. For your convenience, we provide many instruments for rent, or you can purchase instruments at low cost from our local retail partner, CrossBorder Music. Our teachers will be happy to advise you on your best options.

5. As an adult, is it not too late for me to start lessons? No, it is never too late to start an instrument. We learn as long as we live, and that includes playing an instrument! Actually, adults are sometimes at an advantage in that they can be more focused, organized, and determined than some younger students!

How to help your child with music lessons

Do you have children in music lessons?  Are you wondering about the pace of progress in lessons?  Does your child seem frustrated or want to quit lessons entirely?  If so, we would like to offer some advice on how you as parents can help your child prosper in music lessons

Be Patient: 

When you watch and listen to a good music performance, you may think that playing an instrument is easy.  But first impressions can be deceptive.  The truth is that learning an instrument is a difficult process that involves diligent practice to achieve good results.  Aside from learning what the notes are and how to produce them, learning an instrument requires the development of fine motor skills and in most cases, complex hand-eye coordination and coordination between both hands. If your child is not turning into a master performer within your first month of lessons, please be patient and don't expect the impossible. Give it some time, and you will see tangible results. Ultimately, your child will be very proud of his or her successes along the way!  


Along with this, encourage your child to stick with music lessons, and practice regularly. Even with regular practice, however, some students will progress faster than others. This is normal! We are all individuals going through life at our own pace. Since learning an instrument is tricky, your child needs your soothing guidance when hands and fingers just can't follow yet what the brain is telling them to do. As adults, you do have a better perspective on life; you do know that good things take time. So don't add further stress to the frustration your child may be experiencing in learning that C Major scale. Encourage, but don't force!

Purchase a good-quality instrument:

Too often we see students struggle with their music studies for the wrong reason. Upon closer scrutiny, quite a few of these students are practicing on poor instruments. When purchasing an instrument, please consult your (prospective) teacher for advice. To be sure, there are many great deals on the market, but some of these "deals" will all but guarantee that your child won't be taking lessons for long. If even a professional teacher is struggling to play your instrument well, imagine how frustrating, if not impossible, daily practice must be for your child!

What if my child wants to quit? 

Don't allow your child to quit at the first sign of trouble.  Ask lots of questions to get to the bottom of the problem, and you may be surprised at some of the answers. The solution may be readily available. Sometimes the piano is placed in a room with so much distraction that it is impossible for a child to focus. Moving the piano to another room may fully address the problem. At other times, scheduling a lesson right after school may be too tiring for your child, however conveniently the lesson time may fit into your personal schedule. Needless to say, a combination of fatigue and low blood sugar will not improve the lesson experience! In this case, all you may need to do is reschedule the lesson for another day, and your child's attitude toward music lessons may change radically. In other words, don't just quit without first removing all potential obstacles on the path to happy, creative, and fruitful music lessons.


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