As a small child I had siblings who played flute and saxophone. Klipsch speakers that seemed bigger than a refrigerator woke us up each Saturday morning at 6:00 AM with their subtle 100+ dBA delivery of Pavarotti. I played piano for a short time in 2nd grade, but never managed to progress past Hot Cross Buns and thus my musical talents migrated more towards the listening than the creating. Flash forward multiple decades to the start of the 2015-2016 academic year at Oakwood Friends School and the newly renovated home of our music program in the Lane Theater music spaces. I was lucky enough to dive head first into the program the other day and spend time with our students and our maestro extraordinaire Ted Messerschmidt.

During the day, we progressed through courses on Music Composition, Songwriting, Introduction to Guitar, Ensemble and Orchestra. In typical Ted fashion, he even managed to schedule in a few 30 minute private one-on-one student lessons. First class of the day: Music Composition and Songwriting. The surround sound speakers filled our classroom with samples, tracks and full versions of many different songs. Moving seamlessly from hip-hop to folk to rock to classical to country, we listened to a song and then dissected both lyric and and structure. Having never focused critically on Katy Perry before, I was impressed to see the similarities in structure to the samples from The Beatles, Jay Z, Peter, Paul and Mary and George Jones. Defining and identifying extended metaphors, similes, puns, and circular structure thematically tied the lesson to the music surrounding us.

After a short break we began the second class of the day, Introduction to Guitar. With my expectations set at a wildly unrealistic level I was given a guitar and pick. As a group we warmed up with a ‘simple’ six-note exercise. Within seconds my classmates were plucking a familiar tune, the introductory riff from a Jethro Tull song, I believe. Within seconds, I was not so successful. This would clearly require work and a great deal of patience from the instructor. The student next to me was kind enough to physically move my fingers to the correct location and with a bit of strained effort, the sounds emerged. As we progressed to chord exercises and transitions it became clear that my role in this class would be as an observer.

I was profoundly impressed throughout the remainder of the class and the remainder of the day by the engagement of both our students and instructor. Constantly asked to play, share, think, listen and support, the classes covered multiple topics and themes. Students were encouraged to bring their own diverse experiences and varied musical tastes to the discussion and in turn were exposed to a vast array of genres, topics and musical themes. It also became quite evident that in order to progress past a strained 6-note riff, I will have to schedule multiple private lessons with Ted.

Chad Cianfrani, Interim Head of School

Learn More