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Spotlight on Faculty - Madeline Hershenson, piano and orchestra

It is long overdue to highlight our most experienced and versatile instructor Madeline whose passion for teaching music never diminished throughout many years and in various settings she worked. After many years of teaching music in public schools in New York and South Carolina, Madeline came to the Academy to keep sharing her love for music through teaching piano and leading our outreach Kidzymphony orchestra program in which students in underprivileged communities get to learn and experience playing instruments at no cost to them. She is an inspiration to our team. It is true pleasure to learn more about her as she shares her thoughts and beliefs she's developed throughout her music journey.

-How did your music journey bring you to teaching?

When I was seven years old, I began piano lessons with a teacher who instilled in me the joy of making music. She had high expectations for me which made me want to work hard to be the best pianist I could be. I found it very satisfying and enriching. As I got older and more advanced as a musician and pianist, I began to consider which direction the music would take me. While at the music conservatory, I had many performance opportunities and requirements to meet. I came to the conclusion that pursuing the life of a solo performer did not match my personality. Becoming a teacher and collaborative pianist seemed ideal because it would allow me to continue to do what I loved, but also to share the passion of music-making with others. Later, I became a conductor of choruses and orchestras--which is also teaching.

-What are some of the most important goals in your work of instructing music students?

My most important goals as a teacher of music are to share the joy of emotional expression through music and to build self-esteem and confidence in my students.

-What excites you the most about teaching?

I get excited about teaching when a student meets and/or exceeds my expectations on any level and for any reason.

-How did teaching online during this past year change the way you teach music?

Teaching online was a scary proposition at first because the technology was new for me. Once I got past that, I found that I liked it--despite the intrinsic limitations (such as being unable to check posture, hand position, the tension in the shoulders and neck, etc.). Some of the things I have consciously altered while teaching online:

-I work slower, checking to be sure that the student understands the directions by addressing all learning styles (kinesthetic, auditory, visual).

-I must be sure there are measure numbers in the music for quick reference.

-I don't speak or demonstrate until the student looks at me and/or stops playing.

-I use the program 4score to annotate the students' music and then send it to them to copy the notes into their music.

-I keep a copy of the students' weekly agenda and send a copy to them so that we are both on the same page for the next lesson.

Some of the students that I have taught online throughout this COVID 19 year seem more comfortable taking their lessons at home, not intimidated by a more unfamiliar setting (even if they have been coming to the Academy's campus for a while, home is far more familiar).

-How do you want your students to remember this year? What do you wish for them to learn from it?

I want my students to feel a sense of accomplishment at having been able to make really good progress despite the limitations they have had to face. I want them to know that "where there's a will, there's a way." I'm fond of pointing out to them where they started at the beginning of this year and where they are now--proof positive that when you set your mind to it, and you have grit, you can accomplish great things.

-What age of students do you like working with the most?

I love them all! I especially like to work with students that have learning challenges. Often music will be a pathway to communication that is unparalleled.

-Was there a memorable moment in your teaching career that made you particularly proud and rewarded?

I've always felt that the study of music is more about the process than the product. Preparation for an audition, concert, or recital is more important to me than the "product" of a successful performance. That being said, I have nevertheless felt proud of my students who were accepted to the High School of the Arts, college music programs, and professional venues due to our work together. It's always satisfying to help someone succeed at their goals.

-What, in your opinion, is unique about your teaching style?

I bring a varied background to my teaching. I studied piano as my major instrument, but I also studied violin and viola in high school and college. In pursuing a Master of Music in Education I minored in voice and learned to teach every instrument. I've been a conductor of choruses, bands, and orchestras of young children to adults. I've also studied jazz piano and played in a rock band. I've written musical arrangements for the band, chorus, and orchestra. I'm presently learning about approaches to teaching piano to autistic students. When all of these experiences are stirred together, I guess you could say I bring a widely unique and varied perspective on music to my students.

-What advice would you give to families who are considering education choices for their children or themselves?

My advice to families who are considering music lessons:

-Listen to music at home - all genres. Talk about how it makes you feel.

-Go to concerts.

-If you want to give a child music lessons, become familiar with instruments. Listen to youtube videos about each one so you can make an informed choice of which instrument you like. Go backstage after a concert and talk to the instrumentalists and see the instruments.

-Putting aside, for a moment, the intrinsic satisfaction of making music, some studies have found that kids who spend four years or more in formal music lessons perform better on standardized tests. That is assuredly not the goal of music teachers, but it's a nice side effect! There are many more studies out there that show how brain development is influenced by music-making. Check them out!

-Not every child will be a virtuoso, but through music lessons, a child will become well-rounded, find satisfaction in making music and appreciate fine music. Playing an instrument opens doors for opportunities like nothing else. Students become part of a community of musicians. Life becomes richer with music.

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