Alexandria, VA – The tinkling of piano strings graces the air as I walk through Old Town Music School’s doors on S Royal Street. Brendan Harper, a Catholic University of America (CUA) graduate student and part-time piano teacher at the studio, greets me. Pursuing dual master’s degrees in piano and conducting, Brendan loves to learn. Recently, he has found a similar passion for teaching. Learning music today is so much easier than it was two decades ago. This also means that it is also easy to pickup bad habits that is difficult to correct and forget skipping the fundamentals of music theory. This is the reason why having a teacher that oversees the progress is very important for students.
Julie Zupan, Owner and Instructor at Old Town Music School, sent an email to CUA requesting music teachers. After a phone interview, Brendan knew this studio was a perfect match for him. “She sounded lovely, really welcoming,” Brendan says of Julie. “The whole studio just feels like a nurturing and vibrant community.”
The lack of personal interaction in his virtual classes left Brendan feeling something was missing from his musical studies. This opportunity will help expand his resume, further his dream of earning a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) to become a professor, and allow him the personal interaction we have all been deprived of for the last nine months.
“Music lessons have become a touchpoint for what life is supposed to be like or was like pre-Covid,” says Julie. Pre-pandemic, students at the studio played for each other and attended seasonal recitals for Halloween, Christmas, and spring. Those recitals were canceled in March. “It is really important that we get those back,” says Brendan. “Recitals help kids get over the fear of performing.”
The ability to conquer fear is not the only benefit of practicing music. The discipline of music also teaches confidence. “Bringing happiness and confidence drives me,” says Brendan. “It is a teacher’s job to see the potential in their students, but also to encourage them to be the best where they are now.”
Being a good teacher means being a role model. Brendan’s students range in age from teens to retirees, and he has found that he can relate very well with the teens. As a recent undergrad, he is close to them in age and experience.
Being a good teacher also means being a good student. Brendan says of his students, “I learn from them as much as they do from me.” He remains confident, yet humble as he learns from his students every day.
Old Town Music School employs teachers for a range of disciplines, including guitar, strings, voice, and piano. Anyone of any age can take lessons. The studio is taking proper precautions to ensure current and future students’ and staff’s health and safety. Equipment and learning areas are cleaned between lessons, and teachers have adjusted their teaching methods to refrain from contact with each other and students.
These protocols impose limitations on the studio, but Julie is keeping spirits and motivations high. “I find students are more engaged in their lessons than ever before,” says Julie, “and sounding better sooner. There is nothing to compete with their attention or time right now.”
Julie motivates younger students with prizes. For example, when the students successfully learn and perform a Christmas carol, they get to craft a paper ornament to hang on the Christmas tree design on the wall at the front of the studio. The Christmas tree got so full, Julie had to craft an entire Christmas tree farm!
Brendan motivates older students by always encouraging their dreams and aspirations. He knows how important passion is to work ethic. “It is hard to find gratification in practicing, but you change your thought process, set a goal, and stay on track,” he explains.
Brenden never lets his students forget the necessity of work in achieving their dreams. Seeing that he is pursuing his musical ambitions and learning alongside his students proves that fantasy can become reality.
Brendan’s advice for current and potential students is this: “Enjoy it for as long as you can. You don’t have to go professional. You do it because you love music and want to learn how to play. It can’t hurt, so give it a shot.”