By M.K. Luther - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL - As public schools have faced crushing budget cuts this past year and arts programs funding is reduced, many young pupils can find an alternative in private music instruction.
"You know the schools, so many of the schools' music programs have been cut or lessened, and I just think it is critical that they have another outlet for that if they choose to," said Con Burch, a local pianist who offers individual lessons.
Burch, an entertainer who lives in Fort Valley, has been a piano instructor for 25 years.
Burch now offers private lessons, using the Blue Ridge Arts Council space at 305 E. Main St. in Front Royal, as well as in-home instruction.
"A lot of people like that -- it is convenient and they don't have to come out," Burch said.
A reluctant budding musician herself as a child, Burch understands how many young pupils might buck at the idea of spending 30 minutes to and hour learning to read music and play scales.
"My folks wanted to buy me a piano when I was young, but they said they would only buy me one if I took lessons, so I said forget it," Burch said. "They bought me a piano, and I am self-taught, and I later took piano and voice in college.
"I just did not want the discipline when I did it. But the thing about that is, I didn't think it would be fun. So I try to incorporate some fun into the lessons and humor -- it is not just study, study, study."
Burch tries to keep the sessions from being restrictively uniform and structured and uses a variety of music genres to keep the students engrossed in the lessons.
For 14-year-old homeschooled student Mikayla Caruso, the private music lessons are an extracurricular activity as well as a time of musical instruction.
Caruso, who has been taking music lessons since she was 9 and is also a vocal performance student, said piano lessons can be a building block for pupils to learn other music skills.
"My parents encouraged me to start piano lessons because it really is helpful to learn to incorporate notes for learning how to sing and if you want to branch out into other instruments," Caruso said. "It is the basis of everything."
Burch works with students of different skill levels, from beginner to intermediate, and a range of ages.
"I would really like to see more adults take on something like this," Burch said. "A lot of my adults started when they were young and they didn't follow through and they get so excited about it -- if they would come and stick with it, we could really get somewhere."