Musical interlude Berkshire Music School open house draws interest of young and old

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PITTSFIELD — Abby and Autumn Welker, 7-year-old twins, peeked inside a piano at the Berkshire Music School on Saturday, trying to figure out how it worked. Then they took turns playing the keys.

"They've always expressed interest in music," their mother, Nikki Welker, of Pittsfield. "They love to draw and sing, so we figured we'd foster it if that's what they love."

The Welkers are one of about 30 families that participated in the music school's bi-annual open house.

Twice a year children come from throughout the county to try their hands at a variety of instruments to see what fits.

The event, dubbed by staff as the "petting zoo," brings children as young as a year old to experiment with music.

The Welkers recently acquired a keyboard and guitar for the twins and thought it would be a good time to find them a teacher.

"A lot of our family members are really artistic. Both of our moms are artists. We have musical family members," Nikki Welker said. "They love to draw and sing so we figured we'd foster it if that's what they love."

Wilson said that the school has students of all ages.

"We can start violin very young, like three years old."

For wind instruments, children usually start in the third of fourth grade, Wilson said.

Upstairs, toddlers and their parents participated in a music exploration class.

"It's just about getting their interest in music, learning the beat and a little bit of independent singing," said Tari Roosa, an early childhood music educator.

And you don't have to be a child to pick up an instrument for the first time.

Currently, the oldest student is 94, and takes the school's cabaret class, Wilson said.

Alice Spatz, one of 35 teachers at the school, has taught double bass at the school for decades.

Berkshire Music School in unusual because they offer the double bass in multiple sizes, as small as a 1/10 size, which is suitable for children as young as 4, she said.

Spatz assisted a 7-year-old Jackson Dougherty in adjusting his chin on a violin, which he was immediately drawn to upon entering the open house.

Spatz didn't start playing the double bass until she was 28. Before then she had played a guitar in a band and met a bassist.

"I just fell in love with the sound," she said.

Since then she's taught dozens of students how to play the heavy instrument.

About 20 years ago, she started teaching a 4-year-old boy, who now plays the instrument professionally. A girl she started working with at 7-years-old has since gotten a masters in the double bass at Yale University, she said.

The school offers just about every instrument, Wilson said.

"A lot of children are playing the guitar, we have a lot of voice students," Wilson said. "When Frozen came out, everyone wanted to sing like that."

Music lessons tend to help students with their concentration and discipline, Wilson said.

"The discipline of weekly lessons and having to practice translates into their schoolwork," she said.

"I used to teach elementary school and there was one student who just couldn't concentrate," said Sherri James Buxton, the school's outreach coordinator. "Then they got an instrument and it was their saving grace, music."

Buxton was joined with her 4-year-old granddaughter Violet, who was drawn to a small violin.

"What amazes me is the little ones who can make a sound on the trumpet. I can't," said Buxton. "We're really good about matching students with their instruments."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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