The Oxford Arts Alliance is celebrating their 10-year anniversary in 2018. The Alliance began as a Fine Art Gallery… and then came the music and art education programs, the brainchild of a 23-year-old music school graduate with a vision.
We had a chance to sit down with Director of Education, Tony Derrico to learn about how the education programs developed and the amazing things happening at 38 South Third Street.
“The education programs at the Oxford Arts Alliance have truly been a grassroot effort. We’ve grown from 5 students taking a group guitar lesson in 2010 to over 150 students a week taking music lessons. Today we have nine different instructors from drum, violin, bass, guitar, piano, and more.”
“We started giving private lessons by receiving an out-of-tune donated piano with dents and dings. One day we convinced three volunteers to hoist it up the stairs to the second-floor lesson room. Now, each year there is an increasing demand for lessons, having grown from teaching guitar in the director’s office on the first floor, to now occupying the whole building.”
“I was an ice hockey player growing up, but got injured in early high school. That’s when I really started playing bass and guitar. I joined a band in 9th grade with some friends, but was promptly kicked out for not being good enough. I became “I’ll show you,” so I started taking lessons at Cecil College with Andrew Dickinson and would practice six hours a day. By the time I was a senior at Oxford High School I was going to Cecil College part time to study music theory. I was hooked.”
“Learning to play an instrument is a life-long skill that doesn’t have any age or physical limitations. We have taught students as young as four to play violin. Even students with vision-impairments have been able to learn guitar using felt pads to feel the frets rather than see them.”
Music is a creative outlet that you can do for you entire life. -Tony Derrico
“That is what keeps my job interesting, the vast age range we teach and the different skills each student brings to the lesson.”
“The benefit of taking one-on-one lessons is that each session can be customized to each student. The challenge with learning to play an instrument is that you need to use all your senses, it is tactile, aural, and visual. One student may be a visual learner and can read music and figure out an arrangement that way, while another student may be a tactile learner and will never be great at reading music. But, once they hold an instrument and begin playing they can pick it up. The other challenge about teaching music is the key lesson that’s taught is, how to make mistakes. And, it’s not the fact that you made the mistake, but how you react to that mistake and how you overcome it is the true lesson.”
“The students that have the biggest impact on me personally are the ones that are extremely creative. They may not be the best players, or practice the most, but if they come to a lesson having done a ton of research about a style of music or a song and we can have an intellectual conversation about that research, those are the students that stand out to me.”
“I have been truly surprised by the immense interest from the community in taking lessons. We have had over 700 students come through our doors. I had no idea it would spread and grow so fast. I’m also impressed with the vast amount of talent in our community – there are some really great musicians.”
Instructors are mainly pulled from those graduating from Cecil College’s music program. Tony, who is also an Assistant Director at Cecil College, has a goal of keeping those who study music or art in that field. He has found that if they use those skills they learned in college soon after graduation there is more of a chance they will stay with it for their career.
“I want to see more Oxford students go into the Arts and Music fields. When you talk about a town you talk about the artists that came from that town. I want Oxford to be in on those conversations.”
“My goal for the next 10 years is to see the Arts Alliance offer scholarships to 50% of our students. We currently offer very limited scholarships in addition to the Richard Beard college scholarship offered to graduating seniors. Being able to offer free music lessons to students who may otherwise not have an outlet would be amazing. I would also love to see the Alliance develop a youth orchestra.”
“One of the more surprising things about me is that I am extremely introverted. I may talk a lot as a teacher and instructor, but when it comes to music, I prefer to sit in my office with my cup of coffee and write music at my computer. It may stem from my childhood, I had leukemia as a kid and spent a lot of time alone or at museums.”
Tony has spent years teaching music to hundreds of students of all ages and we are lucky to have such a passionate instructor right here in Downtown Oxford. While he doesn’t currently play with a band, his interest now lies in composing and arranging. You can see his work at Cecil College, where he is the Assistant Director of Chamber Ensemble and take lessons from him at the Oxford Arts Alliance.
The Arts Alliance is extending an open invitation to their 10-year anniversary party during February’s First Friday (February 2, 5-8pm) with their rededication ribbon cutting ceremony at 6:30pm. Their current exhibit in the Main Gallery features Lincoln University’s Visual Arts Exhibit, and is on view now through February 10 with an artist talk on January 24 at 7pm.