Friends offer community music lessons from their home

Last modified: 2/29/2016 5:29:32 PM


A songbird whistling in a nearby tree, the faint hum purring through the lips of a nearby stranger and the heavy drum beat pulsating through the speakers of the car in your rearview mirror aren’t just everyday ambient noises, but the soundtrack to our lives.

Not a day goes by without hearing sounds filtering though our eardrums, whether they are planned, like a radio preset, or unexpected like a horse’s whinny. The sounds of a bird’s song or sharp call, along with the sights and smells of the landscape.

But for two artists — Joseph Marcello and Lynne Walker — the landscape proved to be a perfect location to create music.

In 1990, after discovering each other’s musical talents, Marcello and Walker opened an in-home musical education program called Music For Life, sharing the same home but leading different musical lives.

“I don’t recall exactly how the name occurred except it was a triple entendre,” Marcello said.

“‘Music for life’ meaning music for the rest of your life, ‘music for life’ meaning music for your liveliness, ‘music for life’ meaning music for spiritual expression; it just seemed like a natural fit.”

Marcello began studying music at 14 years old. When his brother was trying his hand as a musical freelancer, he gave Marcello a guitar that ignited a musical spark. He grew up up in New York City and upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in composition from the Aaron Copland School of Music, he continued his musical education at the Conservatory of Music in Bologna, Italy. But he found the congested city life took a toll on his creative process, as the constant rush was a distraction. Desperate for a serene atmosphere, he discovered the Pioneer Valley and enrolled as graduate student in music composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After graduating with a master’s degree, he settled in Greenfield, where he met Walker.

“She brought her son to me when he was about to enter college,” Marcello said. “He was a natural musician, but he couldn’t read music well. She asked me if I would give him piano instruction.”

Walker was living in Springfield at the time and was looking for a summer teacher before her son headed to Boston. She never anticipated that she and her son’s instructor would develop a professional artistic relationship and co-direct a music program.

She began her musical studies as a child in Colorado and completed her bachelor’s degree in piano performance and pedagogy at Temple University, while raising three children.

Frustrated with a noisy neighbor in Greenfield, Marcello felt a strong attraction to a rural area and in the early 1990s, Marcello and Walker bought a 3-acre parcel that Northfield Mount Hermon School was selling and they designed a home for living and teaching music. Each studio is on a separate floor and on opposite sides of the two-level home so they do not disturb each other.

“I had all my life dreamt of having a house in the midst of nature,” Marcello said. “It’s more of a center of musical activities when there are several teachers than when there’s just one. There’s an ante-up of the energy when you have students coming for different instruments and disciplines under the same roof ... It creates much more resonance when you have multiple people practicing your discipline in your immediate environment.”

Both Marcello and Walker have about 10 students each but they teach different skills.

Marcello mostly teaches students how to play the guitar and develop composition, while Walker describes herself as a neighborhood teacher and instructs students how to play the piano and hone their performance qualities. She says he can’t imagine her life without music, and so is completely invested in each student’s lesson, whether it’s an experienced pianist, a greenhorn or a student coming back from a decade hiatus wishing to relearn and dust off rusty skills.

“I’m a typical piano teacher in that I want my students to have a broad knowledge of the keyboard, the theory and what it takes to play the piano and the technique,” Walker said. “I sometimes have sent my junior high or high (school) students to (Marcello) if they want to go on and write music. I’m not a teacher of writing songs. He is. That’s what he does.”

“The best part of Lynne as a teacher is that she never scares her students away. She never makes things hard for them. She’s all encouragement and that’s a great gift. There’s a lot of great players who can be scary teachers,” Marcello said of Walker’s teaching style.

In college, Walker studied pedagogy — the art of teaching others — while Marcello called himself “a musical loner,” adding that he never studied pedagogy and would only present his music when the time was right and he felt ready.

“Part of that discipline is how to foster self-confidence and good behavior in a performance situation. It relies upon regular appearances before audiences,” he said.

Musical instruction

Walking into Marcello’s studio, there is a cluttered but comforting atmosphere with a line of bookshelves cascading an entire wall, a computer desk scattered with papers and books next to the front door, multiple bird cages in the corner of the studio, a couch and another small room where he composes music on a computer system.

He was teaching Isabella DeHerdt, a 16-year-old singer-songwriter and student at NMH. Marcello sat on the couch while his student sat nearby in a chair, both holding their classic guitars. She was singing and playing “By the Church,” a song she composed over the summer.

“Take me down to the riverside,” she sang. “Hold me over the gates of hell, baby, I ain’t gonna yell.”

“What is the emotional quality of that?” Marcello asked after he recommended some changes to her original composition. “Just taste it.”

“It has a richer sound,” she said. “It’s deeper and darker.”

She said her song ideas come from television shows she watches or poems she reads. The idea behind “By the Church” was developed after watching a few episodes of “The Walking Dead,” a show about the zombie apocalypse.

“I tend to sing folk songs,” she added. “I also like the grittiness of the blues.”

DeHerdt is considering furthering her education at the University of California Berkeley, Oberlin College and Conservatory or Brown University to fullfil her interests in music and women’s studies.

“No matter where I go or what subject I choose to study,” she said, “I want music to be a huge part of that.”

Walker’s lessons were more structured than Marcello’s as her students were quite a bit younger and needed constant reminders to practice their skills. Her studio was in the basement and was a well-lit and inviting environment, with a grand piano in the center of the room with a wooden bench for the students to sit, a futon behind the instrument, a love seat near the door and walls decorated with bookshelves and photos of her family and friends in between a few small windows that allowed natural light to beam into the room.

She began each lesson reviewing a notebook — a requirement for each student — where they were to record the hourly amount of practice they completed each week. Before the children left the lesson, Walker would write down exercises for them to practice throughout the week until they met again.

Walker’s first student of the day was Toby Som, an 11-year-old boy who had been studying piano for about two years. As he sat down to begin his warm-up exercises, she reminded him to keep his back straight, fingers lightly pressed on the keys and feet firmly planted into the floor.

“Why was that so hard?” she asked as he struggled to play the notes in front of him. “Say the name of the keys once you play them.”

“That’s awfully hard isn’t it?” she asked after he attempted the exercise once more. “Now, play it slowly with your eyes closed.”

Walker used a similar approach with her second student, Beckley Wooster, a 9-year-old girl who was struggling with simultaneously reading and playing the notes.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of not knowing the note names right away,” she told Wooster. “What finger will be on that G?”

“With your eyes closed, play where you think G, E, D and F sharp are on the keyboard,” she added. “I want you to say the notes this time.”

Walker said musical instruction, especially if it’s individual attention, helps develop hand, eye and ear coordination, which develops skills outside of music. She said learning to read and play music is a great way for a child to develop their confidence in areas outside of the musical realm.

“All of that becomes one with all of the other things you are doing on the athletic field, in the art room and in the teachers’ rooms at school and therefore it becomes an integral part of the new person that’s being developed as you grow and know more about yourself,” she said. “That is the core, I’m sure, why the majority of the adults come back and it is also the core of why parents want their children to have musical education.”

Both Walker and Marcello teach students of all ages and varying skills. Each class ranges from 30 to 90 minutes once a week for an approximately 10-to-14 week semester that costs an average of $50 per lesson. At the end of the year in June, Walker hosts a musical showcase and invites her students to perform and sometimes includes Marcello’s students, too, if they’re interested.

Marcello thought he would grow up to become a writer, but was drawn to music after his first strum on the guitar. Composition, however, is the best of both worlds, he said as he referred to a quote from E.Y. Harburg, the lyric composer for “Over the Rainbow” from the “Wizard of Oz.”

“Words make you think of thoughts. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel the thought,” Marcello said. “I think it’s almost like seeing into somebody much more transparently. There’s nowhere to hide. The person is singing their thoughts and they are playing their feelings.”

In Marcello’s free time, he writes a music column for The Recorder, has published a few books about healing arts and meditative practices, takes daily walks and raises and breeds cockatiels that sometimes like to whistle their own harmonies during his guitar lessons.

When she’s not teaching, Walker spends time teaching and designing fabric art, which can be seen hanging throughout the house, and spending time with her extended family.

“My secondary love and interest in life, besides music, is the environment,” she said. “I was trained by both parents, especially my father, to be gentle, admire and care for the earth. My two passions are the health and beauty of the environment including the plants and animals and the creative life as a musician.”

For more information about Music For Life, call the studio at: 413-498-5716.

Staff reporter Rachel Rapkin started at The Recorder in 2015. She can be reached at: rrapkin@recorder.com

From Page D1

Music: Studios in a natural setting


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