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My daughter Emily has been attending Hunterdon Academy of the Arts in Flemington since 2011. She started out in Musikgarten's toddler classes and after a while added Actingarten classes to her HAA activities. After aging out of both programs, Emily signed up for Piano Lessons, Showkids Choir, and Acting Classes. She just can't seem to get enough of HAA!
Over the past six years, I've been proudly watching Emily develop her music and acting skills and in the process becoming more confident at school and other activities. As Emily has achieved performance milestones at HAA, I have been sitting on the sidelines recalling activities I attempted and failed in childhood. One such activity was ballet which I took for 2 months at the age of seven before being permanently dismissed and told to ‘find another activity’ which I was capable of doing.
That rejection and failure never left me. Nearly two years ago, I heard about a local adult ballet class so I signed up, took a deep inner breath and gave dance a second chance. It was a life changing choice! The teacher, Nancy Dow, welcomed us regardless of our experience or abilities. Not only did I make it past two months, but I performed in a showcase, filmed and produced a 75 minute video documentary about the journey, and am currently embracing a new year of ballet knowing that I am capable of doing more than my teacher from childhood believed was possible.
When my birthday rolled around in August, I made a pledge to try something new or revisit something I previously failed at each year for the remainder of my life. I made this declaration on my social media accounts. Many friends told me they were inspired by my journey to revisit and conquer past failures. So many parents spend their days sitting in waiting rooms while their children live life and learn new things. I think it’s important for adults to step aside from this sedentary station and take a class or two themselves.
For many years, I have wanted to learn to play the piano. One day while my daughter was in Show Kids Choir, I approached Ruthie and asked if adults take music lessons at HAA. She assured me they do and immediately encouraged me to take a trial class to see if I liked it- you won’t know unless you try. I inquired about lesson and teacher availability during the days and times my daughter is at HAA. While I was initially hoping to sign up for piano, Ruthie mentioned that Darryl, the new violin teacher had availability that would work for me. Violin… the instrument I have always loved and revered, but played rather unsuccessfully as a child. Throughout five years of lessons, I was always relegated to second violin, seated so far in the rear of the orchestra that I saw more of the backside of the stage curtain than the audience during school performances. However, the idea of working Darryl was very appealing given the numerous times I heard his violin and viola playing wafting into the waiting room. I was so impressed by his skill as a musician and his calm, friendly personality that I decided to give violin a second chance, much in the same way I had given ballet a second chance. Ruthie, being the sensitive and encouraging person she is, completely reassured and encouraged me to do a trial class the following week.
I would love to say that I was nothing but excited and confident in the week leading up to my trial, but I was beset with nerves. All I could think about was how poorly I played the violin as a child. I even had a conversation with a close friend, James Goodwin, who happens to be a strings teacher and a professional bassist. I was hoping he would talk me out of taking the trial by telling me it was silly for an adult to take lessons after so many years. Instead, he not only told me how good it would be for me to pick up the violin again but he promised to help me get my long dormant violin lesson-ready. So, it seemed that violin lessons were meant to be.
The day of my trial arrived. As soon as I walked into the classroom I explained my apprehension to Darryl. He completely put me at ease with his reassurance and gently approach to the lesson. He is so patient and encouraging. Darryl’s responsiveness to my musical interests led him to recommend that I listen to a recomposed version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for homework. Having a teacher introduces me to music and techniques I could not discover on my own. I am so thankful that Darryl was free to take me on as a student at a time that works for me while my daughter is in choir. I am continually blown away by the quality and skill of the instructors at HAA.
After my trial class, I stopped by the office and signed up for weekly lessons. It’s going to be an investment of time and money, but I know it will be worth it on many levels. I am very excited to have violin back in my life and can't wait to learn and improve. I have already started a daily practice regimen and find playing the violin to be stimulating physically, intellectually and artistically. Taking lessons is also enhancing my daughter’s musical experience. Seeing me practice encourages her to practice. She was so excited the first time she heard me practicing scales that she applauded heartily. What encouragement! I think she has learned some of that from her time at HAA.
I believe it’s important to embrace our interests and dreams in spite of past failures or discouraging statements by others. Along the way, we will inspire others by sharing the various contours of our journey with them. While the ballet school of my childhood saw me as a cog in their elite machine, schools like HAA seek to unlock the beauty and potential of each student in a non-competitive, ever encouraging atmosphere. They do this by consistently hiring kind, patient, and skilled teachers. One thing I have always felt at HAA is acceptance. It’s a place for creative people to be themselves while growing and developing as actors and musicians. This is so important in a society that is rapidly devaluing the arts. As the bearer of a BFA in Visual Art, I cannot imagine a landscape without artists, musicians, actors, dancers, poets… creative people who add limitless layers of beauty through their interpretation and expressions of life. And in order to keep this happening, we must make face our fears and past failures, pick up something new (or old) and believe that learning is a lifelong journey.
What was I influenced by? I have no idea – sure, my father took violin lessons with John Krauss as a junior or senior in high school only because that was when he could afford to buy his own violin – which he still has by the way. His instrument lay dormant on a shelf in a coat closet. I never knew there was one in the house. My mother played clarinet in the Hunterdon Symphony, a much different symphony than the one which exists today. I never heard her play in my formative years. The daily tasks of my father going to school, working, my mother taking care of the house and three active children left very little time to do anything more. Later however, I was fortunate in that they both worked with me at home, including of all things playing trios – 2 violins and clarinet in the back yard. Also, later came the Bernstein's Young Peoples' Concerts with the NY Philharmonic on television – in black and white as color was not affordable yet. Those concerts had a profound impact on my future as a musician! My parents were very supportive in many ways, eg. paying for private lessons ever since my first summer school, at $3.00 per lesson with the principal cellist of New Jersey Symphony, Robert Kelber, who visited Flemington once a week to give lessons. My parents took me to the Clinton Museum once a month to listen to a group of men who would sit down to play string quartets all afternoon, have a covered dish supper and continue playing until well into the evening! One day my father told me to bring my violin! I was scared to death. The men welcomed me to sit in on I believe it was a Beethoven quartet at the moment or perhaps Haydn. They played them all! Well, I lasted about 4 measures before becoming lost and struggling to find my way back. It was an eye opener! I was about 11 at the time!
It was not as intimidating of an experience as it was an honor to be allowed to sit in to play such music I had not experienced before. I kept going back most months with my father and each time I improved. I should mention too that the quartet music was not permitted off the premises. This probably sharpened my sight-reading skills more than anything else! As it turns out, his connection there was with the then owners of the Clinton Museum, the Marsh family. My father was a friend of the son Peter Marsh – they played violin duets as boys, Peter went on to become a professional violinist, playing with the renowned Lenox String Quartet.
While working on my doctorate, I became aquainted with the organ professor who knew Peter Marsh at University of Binghamton, NY where the Quartet was in residence. He informed me that Peter coached several string quartets then sent them out on a local circuit to perform. One of the quartets went "professional". We know them as the Kronos String Quartet. Two other experiences I can remember as a child was having attended a concert at restored Williamsburg, VA. The concert was of the Baroque and I was hooked! I could not sit in my chair, I had to be in front for a close look. A similar experience was a trip to Tanglewood attending a concert with my parents, I decided once again I had to have a close-up look at the orchestra, its players and the music they were playing from. I was also awestruck by the conductor and of course everyone dressed in the summer attire of white jackets. Oh, by the way I learned later the conductor who I watched carefully for a long time was none other than Aaron Copland! I was about 12 at the time.
Now, 48 years since that first summer school experience, I can say I have lived my dream. My life as a musician has been nothing less than dramatic and successful. But not without arduous work and a strong sense of commitment. It is very complete as my experiences as a musician incorporate all aspects of being a musician – performance, education, as is with most. With me it has gone beyond that to include experience as a personnel manager of many orchestras in the area, founding a string quartet as playing chamber music has remained very important to me, founding a chamber orchestra of professional musicians which has had the distinct honor of being the only American professional chamber orchestra to have performed in Spain for the Santander Music Festival in 2000 (you can easily find Newtown Chamber Orchestra on the web) and as an orchestral conductor procuring a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Orchestral Conducting from the American Conservatory of Music.
I encourage all who have read this to define and then live your dream! It's quite a ride!!
Share with our readers your life's dreams, by responding to this blog posting below!
Dr. Russell Hoffmann teaches violin and viola at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Request a Trial Lesson with Dr. Hoffmann at no charge to you!
To meet the demands of its growing music program, Hunterdon Academy of the Arts is very pleased to add three new teachers to its distinguished faculty: Mialtin Zhezha (Violin and Viola); Natalie Megules (Voice); and Jason Pattie (Piano and Saxophone).
Hailed by The Hartford Courant for his “expressive and warm sound and faultless intonation," Albanian-born Mialtin Zhezha is an accomplished violinist and violist. Mialtin has won numerous prizes and awards at national and international competitions, including First Prizes at the Young Artist Competition in Fort Wayne; “Kenget e Tokes” and “Islam Petrela” International Violin competitions in Tirana, Albania; and at the Nicola Piccini Violin competition in Bari, Italy. Additionally, Mialtin received the “Best Classical Music Performance of the Year” award by the Downbeat Magazine. Over the past few years, he has performed across the United States in venues such as in Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Miller Auditorium, and overseas in Piccini Hall in Italy, Red Hall in Kosovo, Great Britain, National Theatre and the Arts Academy Hall in Albania, Macedonia, and Greece. Request a Free Trial Violin Lesson with Mialtin!
The latest addition to our voice faculty, Natalie Megules received her vocal training at Westminster Choir College, graduating summa cum laude as an Andrew J. Rider Scholar with a B.M. in Vocal Performance with minor concentrations in Musical Theatre and Arts Management. In 2004 and 2006, Natalie received 2nd and 3rd place, respectively, in the statewide NJNATS Vocal Competition. Upon graduating, she began a full performing schedule in New York City, appearing with companies such as the Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble, The Bronx Opera, Opera Manhattan, and New York Lyric Opera Theatre. Natalie also has deep roots in the musical theatre genre, having performed with numerous regional companies in roles ranging from costume mistress to production stage manager to pit musician. Find out what a great teacher Natalie is by taking a Free Trial Voice Lesson with her!
Joining our piano and woodwind faculty, Jason Pattie received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education from The College of New Jersey, where he graduated, cum laude, in 2009 with a major in saxophone. Jason subsequently taught at Monmouth Junction Elementary School, providing oversight and leadership for Beginning Band, Advanced Band, Jazz Band, and Third Grade Choir. Additionally, he served as piano accompanist for the school's choirs, and taught Kindergarten, and 1st and 2nd grade general music classes. In 2008-09, Jason was a staff member of the Marching Band at Hillsborough High School, conducting alto/tenor saxophone sectionals. Find out if Jason might be the right teacher for you, by taking a Free Trial Piano Lesson or Saxophone Lesson with him!