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Investing in music
Playing an instrument can enrich a child's life

If Junior takes an interest in playing an instrument or is ready for private music lessons, Western New York offers a rich collection of musicians, instructors and businesses, giving parents many options to nurture their children's abilities.

"I'm not originally from here, and I've been very impressed with the amount and quality of music in the Buffalo community and the family involvement," said Amy Glidden, associate concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. "There are excellent teachers and educators across the community."

The area's music education choices address the needs of young musicians of all ages and levels. When looking for teachers and instruments, experts say, parents should put experience and quality at the top of the list.

"It's like anything else you buy cheap -- you'll end up with problems in the long run," said Phil DeFranco, instructional specialist for fine and performing arts for Williamsville Central School District.

Glidden, who plays the violin and also teaches the instrument, said a good way to tap into the region's music offerings is to call the American Federation of Musicians Local 92, which can make recommendations that best fit the musical desires of the student. Glidden said the first step should be finding a teacher, who would then be a guide in buying an instrument and other supplies.

Linda L. Mabry, executive director of the Community Music School in Buffalo, said music is such a big part of life that it should almost be natural to pick it up.

"Music is everywhere," she said. "For all the important things we do, there's music -- weddings, funerals, holidays. And when we're jogging, in the car, and just about everything we do. With all that music, we shouldn't be just listeners but participants."

Glidden, 37, started at age 3 at a Suzuki school, which teaches children music at a very young age.

"My parents were both music lovers and they thought it was important for us to be exposed to music," said Glidden, who also teaches at the Orchard Park Suzuki Strings. "Children who start music at an early age show better school performance."

Local school districts are the primary source of instruction and are doing a fine job in exposing children to music, Glidden said. They can introduce students to instruments and offer weekly group lessons and more practice time during rehearsals.

But oftentimes, schools don't provide one-on-one instruction, which is recommended by experts for young musicians who are looking to reach the next level.

"Nobody is going to learn to play music unless there is some kind of consistency," said Mary Cay Neal, music director and executive director of the Buffalo Suzuki Strings in North Tonawanda. "Just like you wouldn't go to school anytime you want and expect to learn your math problems, music has that same nature about it. You can't shortcut lessons, if you do, you are actually wasting your money and effort."

School music teachers can be parents' first source for referrals to private instructors and music stores. The key is to make sure you are dealing with experienced, qualified professionals. Experts recommend half-hour lessons at least weekly, Many lessons are less than $20 a week. For instance, McClellan Music House, 255 Great Arrow Ave., charges $68 a month for a 30-minute session once a week, which is about $17 per lesson.

The Community Music School, 415 Elmwood Ave., offers private lessons starting at $19.75 for 30 minutes. It also has a financial aid program for eligible students.

The North Tonawanda Suzuki Strings, 4 Webster St., says it works with families to make lessons affordable. Its students receive a minimum of seven to 10 hours of instruction a month, with tuition covering only three of those hours, Neal said. She said lesson prices are individualized, based on age, instrument and amount of instruction time, and declined to give a range of costs.

However, she said, "We want to make it available to as many children as possible. We've kept tuition at a minimum. We want to deliver a great deal of value." (The school is having an open house for prospective students from 9 to 11:30 a.m. April 10.)

The decision to rent or buy an instrument depends on the child's age, ability and commitment. Renting in most cases is the cheaper option. For instance, you can rent a student violin for $42 for three months at the Suzuki Strings, Neal said.

"Twenty dollars a month to rent versus $900 to buy -- buying is a lot of money and a lot of people can't afford to do that," said Joseph Koessler, owner of McClellan's.

At McClellan's, a new clarinet is $699; renting a used one for the school year is $139.99 or $21.99 a month. The store will apply all rent payments toward the purchase of a new instrument; parents should check with their music stores to see if they offer a similar deal.

Henri Muhammad, founder of Muhammad School of Music, 617 Main St., said very young musicians will outgrow their student-size string instruments, so renting is preferable. But if the student is older, renting a full-size violin and buying equates to the same amount.

Good used instruments are available, but music teachers recommend having someone knowledgeable help you. Used instruments, purchased online, from pawn shops or from individuals, may be in poor condition and require costly repairs.

"You should never buy an instrument without good knowledge of what you're doing," Glidden said.

Mabry, from the Community Music School, said parents should explore all avenues to find affordable, quality music opportunities for their children. For example, they could employ means like garage or estate sales and donations of used instruments from family and friends.

She also suggests asking close relatives to consider helping with the child's instruction: "People don't think about giving music lessons as a gift, but it's a much more quality gift than a toy or clothes," she said.

Over the past 30 years, fine arts offerings in the nation's public schools have been reduced or eliminated, Mabry said.

The severe hemorrhage of music in public schools led to the creation of the VH-1 Save the Music Foundation in 1997. In its 13 years, it has given $45 million to 1,700 schools to buy instruments and support their programs. From 1998 to 2001, VH-1 Save the Music replenished Buffalo Public Schools' supply of instruments with $500,000 in donations.

Music teaches children self-discipline, teamwork and self-expression, and gives them the ability to think creatively and constructively, said Paul Cothran, executive director of Save the Music.

"Students said having music in school gave them a reason to go to school, something to look forward to, and gave them a reason to stay in school," he said.

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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