Mei Melton plays her lesson under the supervision of teacher Saya Ejima, who has been on the Semiahmoo Academy of Music faculty since it opened in 2010. Contributed photo

Mei Melton plays her lesson under the supervision of teacher Saya Ejima, who has been on the Semiahmoo Academy of Music faculty since it opened in 2010. Contributed photo

South Surrey music school marks muted milestone

Semiahmoo Music Academy celebrated 10th anniversary quietly

Cheryl Finn marked the 10th anniversary of her South Surrey school, The Semiahmoo Academy of Music, last month – even though the milestone passed with only muted fanfare.

COVID-19 saw to that, she told Peace Arch News.

“We had all these big plans for celebrating the anniversary,” she said, when interviewed recently at the Southpoint Business Centre premises of the school, which teaches private lessons in voice, piano, guitar, bass guitar, flute and violin – plus music theory and history – to students who range in age from the pre-school years to adult.

Large-scale performances and gatherings were not on the cards, due to current restrictions, she said.

“This is definitely not where we saw ourselves being 10 years ago!” she laughed.

But – happily – demand for music lessons has not diminished as a result of the pandemic, she said.

Because of the nature of the business, the school and faculty were able to adapt rapidly to a safe model of online teaching after the state of emergency was declared in March.

“We had two weeks to prepare and went online as of April 1,” Finn said.

Even with subsequent relaxations of quarantine restrictions, she said, the school continues to offer a mix of both online and distanced in-person lesson classes, depending on the comfort level of each student and teacher.

“Some of the students have a adopted a hybrid approach – one week online, one week in person.”

Adding to a sense of continuity for students is the familiarity of the suite of second floor classrooms at the business centre.

“This has been our location since day one,” said Finn – whose twin daughters Alanna and Brianne Finn-Morris, better known as the pop duo Fionn, are also alumni of the school.

“It had previously been a ballroom dancing school. We inherited the lovely parquet floors – but when we came in we had to create separate classrooms and all the soundproof walls had to be constructed.”

But the work done then has allowed for growth of the school over the last decade that has been “terrific,” Finn said.

“We’ve gone from four teachers to 14 and from 50 students to 300,” she added. “Most of our students are aged from three-and-a-half to 18, although we also have some adult students.”

The school primarily follows Royal Conservatory of Music curricula – Finn is an accredited conservatory examiner as well as a frequent adjudicator for music festivals – and many students come to it for examination preparation, she said, noting that Royal Conservatory exam marks can be applied to high school credits or other graduation credits.

“Piano is definitely the most popular instrument for students, closely followed by guitar and violin,” Finn said. “We recently started voice lessons, too, because we got a lot of inquiries about that.”

A number of students have gone on to study music at university level, she said, while one of their first students was accepted into prestigious Berklee College in Boston as a major in composition for film and television.

While many students are following Royal Conservatory studies in classical music, Finn said, “Others just want to learn their favourite songs.”

Whatever the motivation, musical education is invaluable in the growth of each individual student, she said, whether or not it’s something that is pursued later on.

Even if the student never continues with music, lessons contribute to a much broader understanding of, and appreciation for, the many forms as a listener and a potential audience member.

“It develops our artistic side,” she said. “It opens students’ minds to other musical cultures – in learning musical history, it takes them all the way back to medieval times.

“More importantly, it teaches them how much they have to put into their studies in terms of discipline. It teaches a lot more than music. When you’re already doing three-hour theoretical exams, by the time you go to university, a three-hour exam isn’t such a big deal.”

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