The purveyor of second chances

Story by Edward Tutwiler

“I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.”
– George Eliot

Looking backwards on missed opportunities reveals times when one grabbed for the dross and disregarded the gold. No such times are more obvious to me than those times when I passed up the opportunity for music exposure. I wonder how many others are like me who in their youth let visions of athletic-field prowess blind them from the reflected light shining from a musical instrument or the dim lights of a concert hall.

Several years ago, I decided to rectify in some small way the consequences of those decisions made so many years ago. Not really knowing where to start, I did an Internet search for local tutors, teachers, schools or any other venue that might help me right the wrongs of long ago. Call it fate, divine guidance, serendipity or accident, but whatever it was, I discovered the Valley Music Academy in Waynesboro. A telephone call or two later, I was paired with a young, enthusiastic, professional voice teacher who assured me that, yes, even I could learn to sing, and we went to work. We’ve been together for some time now, and I will never be ready for prime time, and you will never catch me on stage anywhere, but thanks to my VMA voice teacher, I’m having the time of my life. Let you tell you about this remarkable organization.

The Valley Music Academy’s mission is to provide quality music education to children in the community (and offering some second chances to adults as well) and provide this education whether the child can pay or not. The office for the Valley Music Academy is in the lower level of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 500 S. Wayne Ave., in Waynesboro. As well as housing the headquarters, this location hosts the classrooms and studios for the various VMA programs. In addition, a children’s Muskigarten program is located at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Staunton.

Since 2005, Robert Harrold has been the director of the VMA, and he recently stopped his busy day long enough to share some background information and personal thoughts.

I wondered just who had the vision for VMA and Robert told me that Paige Edwards — a local choir teacher at Wilson Middle School — was the founder of Valley Music Academy. She got it started in 2001 in the basement of the Waynesboro First Baptist Church. It later moved to its present location at Grace Evangelical Lutheran. In addition to Grace Lutheran, VMA also has a location at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Staunton.

The Academy’s volunteer board of directors runs a lean ship. Robert says that the only staff is himself, the executive director, and office assistant Laurie Bame. In addition to these folks, VMA has nine adjunct instructors to handle the teaching responsibilities.

Robert told me that currently VMA serves 30 adults and 200 children but has served upwards of 250 children through the past year. He said VMA has more than doubled in student enrollment over the past two years and continues to see steady growth.

VMA is not just a voice school. Here is the run down of courses they offer: Musikgarten classes, Valley Voices Children’s Choir, VMA Jazz Ensemble, Music Therapy, Guitar, Piano , Drums, Voice, Trumpet, French Horn, Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba, Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello and Music Theory.

As with any arts venue, funding is a struggle. I asked Mr. Harrold to expand a bit on the funding efforts VMA pursues. He replied, “We do a variety of fundraisers – Singing Valentines is the one coming up the soonest – VA Diner sales (available on our website year round), We do Longaberger Bingo, conduct a Chicken BBQ, and sell Martin’s Gift Card Sales (available year round), just to name a few. In addition, VMA applies for grants and is supported in part by The United Way of Greater Augusta, The Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, Augusta Healthcare Foundation, and the Virginia Commission of the Arts/National Endowment for the Arts.”

I sensed that Robert Harrold is a passionate believer in the value of music. I asked him what drew him to the position and to share his thoughts about the mission and the vision of the future of VMA. Here is what he told me. “My education and background have all been geared toward music performance and music education. I believe it’s important for the future of our children and of music to provide training for those who want to pursue music either as a career or just for fun. VMA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and the main goal is to provide low- to no-cost music classes and lessons for children that cannot afford musical studies. In the 2007/2008 school year, VMA students have received top honors locally and in the school district for their performances. We have 20 students that have auditioned and won the honor of participating in All-County Band, All-District Band, or All-District Chorus.”

I asked Robert if he saw any road blocks that can’t be bypassed. He replied, “Our most difficult road block continues to be funding. Through this past year, VMA has had the opportunity to give children in need more financial need-based scholarships than ever before. Over $8,000 in the 2007/2008 school year has gone to students who could not afford to study music otherwise. The unfortunate aspect is that we could have given over $10,000 for those in need; however, VMA did not have the funds to do so. We currently have children on a waiting list to attend VMA. Until we can find more funds to assist these students in need, they will not be able to study music with us. We continue to seek individual and business donors who are willing to contribute annually to help us continue to serve our community.”

There you have it, my friends. Your eyes should be now opened to the most wonderful treasure one can possess — the love of music and dedicated folks who can cultivate that love. If you know a child in your life that needs to feel this love, direct them to the Valley Music Academy. Maybe it’s not a child; maybe it is you — someone who, like I, overlooked the opportunity to feel this love as a youth. VMA is in the business of offering second chances. Accept this offer. Come down and join me as I follow the words of Fredrich Niezsche when he said “Without music, life would be an error. The German imagines even God singing songs.”

If you want to become a part of the Valley Music Academy or maybe help them fund one more child’s music education, contact them at 540.942.8648 or on the web at www.valleymusicacademy.org.


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