The Music Academy of Rockford: Bringing music to life in our kids

Photo provided
Photo provided

By Dr. Rob Tomaro
Arts Correspondent

When you enter The Music Academy of Rockford at 226 S. Second St., you can almost hear the echoes of music that has been made there, of generations of students who have passed through, most beginning to study from as early as age 3 and continuing for about 14 years.

The central principle of the school is that “the arts give meaning and wholeness to all human existence, extending from the life of the individual to the community and, ultimately, to our entire civilization.” This is a place where music comes to life, and you can feel that central truth embodied in Marti Frantz, the executive director of The Academy.

It was founded more than 40 years ago by violinist and teacher Eleanor Stanlis, and her passion sustained it throughout her life. She was one of the first in this area to learn of the Suzuki method, which revolutionized the teaching of very young students, and she eventually traveled to Japan to study with Dr. Suzuki himself.

Now, that seminal vision is carried on by Marti, who began studying piano at the age of 5, cello at 10, and was performing with the Rockford Symphony when she was 13. Under her, the faculty has grown to 30 teachers who offer study in strings, piano, flute, early childhood music and Music As Pleasure for Adults to 1,500 students.

This year, Marti received the Milestone Award from the National Guild for Community Arts Education, which is given for longevity and for providing a consistently superior level of education in the community.

Photo provided
Photo provided

When asked how her school has managed to not only survive, but thrive in this difficult fiscal period, she said: “I think we do really good work. It’s a quality product. People seem to understand that it’s about ability development, and that’s a transferable skill. And, there are parents everywhere, at every walk of life, who really want the best for their kids. They want to have their children benefit from a first-rate education because they know that it will enhance their life, forever. “

It’s also about her gifted faculty, all of whom are esteemed performers and teachers.

I put in front of those kids the best people I can find, not only extraordinarily trained musicians, but wonderful people,” she said.

When asked to name the most rewarding aspect of what she does, she answered, “It’s the kids, the development of the children, not only as musicians, but as people.”

And, she pointed to a framed photo of a former student, one of many in her office. The 5-year-old girl in the photo, Shelby Latin Harris, is now a Grammy-nominated artist-in-residence and violinist with the Racine Symphony in Wisconsin.

The day before Eleanor Stanlis died in December 2000, she taught her regular schedule of classes and attended a concert by her students, reporting to Marti that the kids gave “the best-ever performances” in the history of the school. Now, through Marti and her dedicated faculty, Eleanor’s vision for the school lives on. We see that it is possible for music pedagogy to thrive in a fiscal climate that is witnessing the demise of school music programs and professional symphonies alike, locally and nationally. In the Music Academy of Rockford, we see what can come of one person’s dream of bringing music to life in our kids.

Robert Tomaro is music director for life of the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra. He holds an master of arts and a Ph.D. in composition from New York University, where he served as music director of the New York University Symphony Orchestra. He has performed with premier orchestras the world over, including The London Symphony, The Slovak Radio Orchestra, The Silesian Philharmonic, The Black Sea Philharmonic, The Moravian Philharmonic, The Crakow Sinfonietta, and extensively throughout Europe and Scandinavia. Tomaro will write about the area’s classical music scene and other matters that interest him.

From the Dec. 25-31, 2013, issue

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