Private Lessons Key for Fifth-Grade Flautist in Claremont

Sunday, January 03, 2016
Claremont — Balmy and damp, the day before Christmas Eve felt more like springtime than late December. But that afternoon, a band of wandering musicians brought some sounds of the season to Claremont. Walking through the downtown, instruments in hand, the group performed Christmas carols at a church, on sidewalks and in businesses. Faculty members and students from West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts, they included a guitarist, a singer and four flute players.

The youngest, Mariauna King, is a fifth-grader at Maple Avenue Elementary School, where she started studying flute last year. During her young life she’s tried several other extracurricular activities, such as dance and sports, but the flute has had an immediate, and longer-lasting, appeal.

“It just sounded really cool when I heard it, and it looked really fun,” Mariauna said.

Her mother, Hannah Barry, said she loved music early on. Really early on.

While Barry was pregnant, she happened upon the song Lean Back, by rapper Fat Joe.

“She went nuts,” kicking whenever it played, Barry said. “I had to go out and buy the song.”

From rock to hip hop to a cappella, Mariauna, 10, likes all sorts of music. She’s had “all the toy instruments you could think of,” Barry said, and took inspiration from her second cousin, who played saxophone. But joining the school band was Mariauna’s idea.

“She just came home from school and said, ‘I need a flute,’ ” Barry said.

Partway through fourth grade, however, she started feeling discouraged. “It was hard to remember the notes and to get them out sounding right,” Mariauna said.

She talked about quitting, but Barry said she needed to finish out the year. She left it up to Mariauna to decide whether or not to continue in fifth grade. But before they came to that juncture, Mariauna heard about lessons offered through West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts.

Last summer, she started studying with Melissa Richmond, executive director of the nonprofit, which works to bring the arts to “the underserved and low-income community of Claremont” and the wider region, according to its website. That includes arts education programs and private music lessons, provided through its Youth Arts Enrichment Initiative, which also offers financial aid. Elementary students generally take half-hour lessons, which cost $25, and hour-long lessons are $40.

Mariauna is one of about 20 students who study brass instruments, flute, harp, saxophone or voice through the center.

Working with Richmond has helped a lot, said Mariauna, who looks forward to the weekly lessons. “I like it because you don’t have a lot of people watching you. I like the one-on-one time with her.”

A single mom who provides child care at her Claremont home, Barry called the free private lessons “a godsend” that she couldn’t otherwise afford.

And the benefits aren’t just musical, said Barry, who is studying to be a teacher. “Her self-esteem and self-confidence have skyrocketed. It’s really amazing to watch her.”

Barry is “incredibly supportive” of the lessons, and Mariauna is doing very well, said Richmond, who also helps with the group flute lessons at the elementary school. Mariauna can play in multiple keys and knows chromatic scales and several other scales.

Private lessons help students move ahead faster than they would otherwise, and if they’re practicing, “they really zoom right along,” Richmond said.

Getting Mariauna to pick up her flute at home isn’t an issue. “My mom doesn’t have to remind me. I ask her if I can practice,” she said.

“Sometimes she picks really bad moments,” like bedtime or on the way out the door to school, Barry said, wryly. Nonetheless, she’s a fan of the impromptu concerts and usually answers in the affirmative.

Mariauna’s favorite movies are musicals — she recently watched Into the Woods, a modern take on classic fairy tales featuring songs by Stephen Sondheim. And music is her favorite part of the school day, either playing alone or in a group. “I just like how it sounds, and it’s fun.”

A music lover herself, Mariauna’s grandmother, also a Claremont resident, has attended all of her concerts. “I’m so proud of her,” Naomi Barry said.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at or 603-727-3210.

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