What if you had two kids who, between them, have studied eight different instruments from multiple instructors over the past four years?
With this level of exploration, would you anticipate that they're flourishing or floundering in their musical development?
For 7th grader Audrey Mendenhall and her 5th grade sister Megan, the answer is most certainly flourishing.
The following article is part of our Student Spotlight series, which highlights the stories and experiences of Real School students and their families.
Violin, mandolin, piano, and voice student Audrey Mendenhall.
Banjo, ukulele, guitar, cello and piano student Megan Mendenhall.
The conventional (and perhaps outdated) wisdom for early music lesson success is, 'pick an instrument and stick with it.' If you can find an instrument that fits the student's body type and personality, all the better.
But Real School Burlington students Audrey and Megan Mendenhall have taken their own path and are having a lot of fun doing it, thanks to their zest for music and the strong support of their parents and teachers. Since coming to Real School nearly four years ago, the Bedford, MA residents have taken lessons on eight different instruments from five different instructors (we think, we may have lost count). On top of that, they're active in two different ensembles, including a musical theater group and a string band.
It's a story that could only happen at Real School: where students are encouraged to explore and find their own path, with many opportunities to study a variety of instruments, musical styles, and to play in bands; where the faculty work together to ensure a seamless educational experience.
After initially coming to Real School to attend the home school program with early music education expert Rich Podgur, their teachers have included Heather Luhn (violin and cello), Tim Rowell (banjo, mandolin, and ukulele) Mia Randall (voice), Steve Levey (guitar, banjo, ukulele, mandolin).
When asked about working with Audrey, newly appointed Director of Education and string instructor Heather Luhn said, "Audrey is a rock star! She not only plays several instruments and sings, but has an amazing ear and can pick up anything after she hears it.
Audrey often takes melodies she learns on one instrument and figures out how to play them on another. She plays in a traditional ensemble, string ensemble, vocal ensemble, and is also going to start taking fiddle lessons. Audrey is very easy-going and loves playing all kinds of music."
Heather is equally enthusiastic about working with Megan, pointing out her infectious enthusiasm: "If Megan could learn every instrument there is, she would! Megan's high spirit and enthusiasm for music pushes her to play at a level beyond her age.
She is constantly wanting to learn more difficult music and seeking out challenges for herself. There is no slowing her down! Besides taking private cello and banjo lessons, Megan also participates in a traditional ensemble and string ensemble. There is no genre of music that scares Megan away - if she hears it, she wants to play it! I am excited to see where her eagerness and fun spirit takes her on this music journey!"
Why did you decide to come to Real School and what do you like best about it?
Audrey: I started with the Real School because they offered a home school music program, and my Mom put me in the program. I like the teachers and I like playing and singing with the ensembles.
Megan: My mom signed my sister and me up for a home school class with the Real School when I was 6. Rich Podgur was one of the instructors and he made music fun. I like playing in Tim Rowell's ensemble, and I like the instructors because they let me play the music I like.
You both play in an ensemble together. What's the name of your group?
Audrey and Megan: The Candy Mountain String Band.
What has been some of your most memorable experiences in music so far?
Audrey: Playing with the Candy Mountain String Band and getting a chance to play fiddle for and adult ensemble.
Megan: Playing "Wipe Out" with Nick and Tim, and being able to keep up with Nick (I was playing ukulele)! I also really like playing in my ensemble with the Candy Mountain String Band, the other kids are fun.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of school?
Audrey: I am in 4H, I like playing golf, kayaking and going fishing. I like cooking and crafts. I like to play outside with my friends.
Megan: 4H club, playing golf, fishing, playing video games, biking and kayaking and playing with my friends.
What are some of your favorite subjects in school?
Audrey: I like art, music and science.
Megan: Music, art and math.
Do either of you perform in with another orchestra, band, or choir?
Megan: Yes, I will be starting with Lexington Chamber Music Center Youth String quartet in the fall.
You both love music so much... how has taking music lessons and performing in an ensemble made a difference for you?
Audrey: I think music is fun. I have fun playing music with my sister at home, and we have helped each other practice by playing songs we like. My teachers make the music lessons fun.
Megan: I like to play music for fun at home. Playing music with my sister is also fun. I like to see how fast I can play a song (on any instrument!).
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are looking to develop their skills, and what are your future goals?
Audrey: Keep practicing and play the songs and styles of music that you like. I would like to play music in a bluegrass band someday.
Megan: Don't give up. It gets easier the longer you play. Make it fun. I would like to learn how to play every instrument! I would like to play music for a living or own an ice cream shop.
Our final question is for Audrey and Megan's mom, Jan. With two kids so involved in music, what advice can you share with other parents?
Jan: Try to make music fun, and not work. If possible, have their instrument easily accessible to play (not stashed away in a case). Play with your kids if you can. My girls taught my husband how to play some chords on the mandolin, and he plays with them!
Kids are great teachers and will enjoy music more if they can teach you how to play. Let the kids play songs they like.
Like this article? Here are some others that you may enjoy:
- Faculty Spotlight Series: New Director of Education Heather Luhn
- Student Spotlight Series: Woburn Vocalist and Pianist Julia Colucci
- Student Spotlight Series: Lexington Pianist and Composer Joline Maher
- Student Spotlight Series: Burlington Guitarist and Vocalist Ashley Koman
- Student Spotlight Series: Andover Songwriter and Multi-Instrumentalist Dylan Walsh
- Student Spotlight Series: Walpole Guitarist Ben Regan