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More in Community
Piano studio creates aspiring musicians
NORWAY — A piano studio on Main Street, next to the Universalist Church, is a great jump-off point for musicians of all kinds, says owner Dale Churchill, who has been a private piano teacher, conductor and children's music teacher for more than 40 years.
He says that many of his former students at Churchill Piano Studio have even gone on to become instructors themselves after studying with Churchill since childhood.
The piano, says Churchill, is a "unique vehicle for helping children develop," as the instrument covers many areas of learning.
"I came here knowing what I was doing," says Churchill, a Massachusetts native. What initially drew him to Maine, he says, was his family.
Churchill says he can't see himself instructing music anywhere else – he's owned a piano studio in Oxford Hills for 20 years.
Churchill currently lives in South Paris. As well as a private piano instructor, he is also a teacher at the Portland Conservatory of Music, Waynflete School in Portland, and Hebron Academy.
Churchill graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Boston with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. He has been the music director at the Dean Junior College Theater Department in Franklin as well as Massasoit Community College in Brockton and at three Unitarian Universalist churches in Massachusetts.
He has also directed music at the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland since July 1986.
His experience ranges from cabaret to college music theater, from classical to jazz, he says.
For all ages
"We teach kindergarten through grandparents," says Churchill, explaining he and instructor Dawson Hill's undertaking at the studio.
He and Hill teach a different method for each age group, as well as all levels and styles, but mostly classical and jazz, he explains.
Churchill says many of his past students have gone on to pursue a career in music – but not necessarily piano.
He says the primary focus is to teach students how to read music; if you can read music for piano, he explains, you can read music for any instrument.
"Sometimes we do jazz, pop, blues, where you make stuff up and don't use music," he says, "but we mostly use it as a motivator." He says if a student can master a song by the book, their reward is to play any song they want.
Some of his students began lessons with him in the second grade and stuck with it until they graduated high school, he says.
One of his students, 16-year-old Evangeline Kim, from Paris, has been studying at the studio for 10 years. Another student, Zaya Vollmar, 7, Paris, has been studying at the studio for three years.
Kim has many memories of the studio growing up. "Back then his studio wasn't on Main Street, it was in a different building [in Paris]," says Kim.
"I remember ... I was really scared, but he was really funny. He loves to make kids laugh a lot," she says of Churchill. She remembers the very first lesson she had, Churchill even made her write her very own song.
"About three years ago, we started doing a lot of jazz and improvisation and learning different chords and music theory," says Kim.
"I would love to have at least a major [in college] or music in my life when I grow up," she says. "I really love music. I try to teach myself any instrument I can get my hands on."
"Once you learn music theory for the piano you can teach yourself a lot of other instruments," she explains. "I find piano the easiest to learn but the hardest to master."
'In the blood'
According to Churchill, being a musician runs in the family. "My parents and grandparents were musicians," he says.
"My grandfather was a pioneer in public school music education in south east Massachusetts and my parents were both music teachers," says Churchill. "It's in the blood."
For Hill, the other instructor at Churchill studio, music also runs in the family – his mother is a music instructor at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. Hill first learned to play piano from her at five years old before taking lessons with Churchill.
"He was a very serious teacher and got me right into classical music and learning all the fundamentals," remembers Hill of his childhood.
"He was kind of strict, but now, looking back I am glad he was. I realized it was important to learn all the basics and technical stuff and the proper way to play."
Hill began lessons at Churchill Piano Studio when he was in the fifth grade. He eventually attended Emerson College, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in acting.
"Toward the latter years in college I realized I was getting more involved in music," he says.
Hill, who commutes from Bangor, has been an instructor at the studio for three years where he teaches two days a week. He also gives voice lessons and teaches songwriting, guitar and percussion, and plays in a funk band.
He was even a solo pianist at Charles Playhouse in Boston, as the opening act for the Blue Man Group, he says, which probably wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Churchill's encouragement.
"I am getting ready to let it grow," says Churchill of the studio. He says he hopes to eventually turn the studio into a music school, which he hopes will attract and retain even more students.
"I want to get things going a little bit more," he says. He's even planning to come up with a new, colorful eye-catching sign.
"We are going to have a series of concerts open to the public of music with two pianos," says Churchill, a first for his studio, which currently has two pianos that sit side by side.
He said the time of the concert is to be determined. He's already in the process of putting together programs, he says, which will feature two students playing on one piano at the same time.
"It will be in conjunction with the idea that we are turning it into a small school," he explains.
Churchill says for the past couple of years he has been thinking about how the studio will expand.
Expansion will mean sacrifices, but Churchill is willing to make them to make his dream a reality.
He is looking into offering a program for toddlers called Kindermusik, which would be offered once a week for an hour and adding a music theory class to the studio. He said students would either be required to take the class either before or after their lesson.
"Things either grow or disappear," says Churchill, "but they don't always stay the same. So it's time for this to evolve."