by Mary Lock Albrecht
No matter what your experience level, you can bring the enchantment of music to your life. University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies offers noncredit programs that give you many ways to develop your skills. UW-Madison Continuing Studies offers music classes during the winter/spring and fall terms and, in summer, hosts the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF).
Some winter/spring classes focus on voice techniques, piano and woodwinds. Other popular courses are guitar, mandolin and other string instruments. There are even classes for learning to play Irish music. And if performing isn't your ambition, the department also offers a wide range of music appreciation classes, from opera to country. All classes are led by experienced musicians who are dedicated to sharing the thrill of the art.
Longtime instructors Christopher Powers and Nancy Dunn Kurr talk about how their professional lives affect their teaching. Powers, who has worked as a professional musician for 25 years and the host of "Mud Acres" on WORT-FM even longer, teaches Beginning Mandolin and a variety of guitar classes.
Powers says he got hooked on playing guitar as a teen, while trying to accompany the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash. He added, "Our choir director worked in a music store and encouraged me by passing on 'comp' copies of musicwhich started me on my way. I just never stopped learning."
In college, Powers added mandolin and eventually expanded his repertoire to harmonica, bouzouki, mandola, electric bass guitar, piano and voice. "I just played whenever, wherever and whatever I could," he explained.
He has played in orchestra pits for musical theater productions and toured the state with the Heritage Ensemble's history-and-music programs. But bluegrassall kinds, as well as progressive string band musicis a mainstay for this musician who works with the Quarter Tap String Band and Tight Like That.
Powers enjoys teaching adults "because they really are surprised at how much progress they can make in a class." He said they usually start classes feeling somewhat skeptical, but become very enthusiastic as they learn notes and melodies.
"I always try to teach people the skills they need to keep getting better. A lot of teachers teach just the song, so at the end of eight classes the student only knows eight songs," he noted. "I want the student to learn the skills necessary to play hundreds of songs on his or her own."
Nancy Dunn Kurr, who specializes in strings, is another instructor who delights in teaching adults. Her grandfather's violin provided the spark that ignited her fascination with these instruments. From fourth grade on, she said, music has been her passion.
Kurr studied viola at UW-Madison and has taught for 20 years; she currently maintains a viola and violin studio at her home in Middleton. In addition, she is principal violist in the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra and an active chamber musician in the Madison area. She performs regularly with the Shumi String Quartet and the Yahara String Quartet. For UW-Madison, she leads a beginning strings course and a strings ensemble course for continuing/intermediate students.
"It's a pleasure to work with adult students. They understand so quickly what you suggest and they stay on track easily. Because they choose to be in class, they are internally motivated, and they practice because they want to improve," Kurr said. "Participants in the ensemble class discover how exciting playing in a group can be; it's such a big, full sound. It can be very uplifting," she added.
Adults enroll in these classes for a variety reasons. Some want to pick up an instrument they played years ago in school, while others are adding something new to their lives, Kurr explained. "Participants are all ages. Some are a few years out of college and want to continue their interest. Others delight in discovering new skills after their children have grown." One woman, Kurr recalled, wanted to start violin classes so she could play a duet with her granddaughter. "Music is a joy! Everyone should have it in their lives," she added.
To learn more about noncredit music classes from UW-Madison's Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts, go to www.dcs.wisc.edu/lsa/music.