If Kai Schulz ever becomes a professional musician, he won’t need to look far for a manager.
When asked what music he liked to play, he hesitated a moment before his five-year-old sister, Mia, answered enthusiastically, “He likes Star Wars!”
The seven-year-old has been taking keyboard lessons at the Vernon Community Arts Centre (VCAC) with instructor Melly Oey for the last three years.
“I was nervous at first but I really like it, it’s fun,” said Kai, who started lessons three years ago at the suggestion of his grandma, who thought learning how to play music would be a good thing.
Kai’s mom, Hisai Schulz, said her son enjoys playing on the keyboard at home, experimenting with different sounds.
“He definitely has more appreciation for music and he can make all sort of different sounds, like guitar,” she said. “We always have music on at home, as I find it helps with their concentration, so we always do homework with music on.”
While Mia will start her own lessons when she turns six, Kai plans on continuing while also looking into drum lessons.
“I like lots of different music, and I really like the band Foster the People,” he said. “And I like music from the game Minecraft.”
Oey has been teaching at the VCAC for the past five years. Born and raised in Indonesia, she taught music there for more than 20 years.
A former accountant and the mother of a grown daughter, Oey earned her degree through the Yamaha Music Foundation, and taught organ (Electone) for 10 years, with students ranging from kids to seniors, until she left Jakarta for Canada.
Whether she is teaching children or adults, Oey strives to offer music that her students will enjoy playing, so that could be anything from the Treehouse TV show, Bob the Builder, to the greatest hits of The Beatles.
Student Elsa Hein used to play the accordion by ear and had tried to take lessons many times in her life.
“I was never successful because my ear would always take over,” she said. “I then developed tears in my rotary cuff and sadly could not play my accordion any longer. I felt bereft without my music and acquired an electric organ.
“As I struggled to pick out tunes by ear I realized that I would be hampered by the same limitations that I had experienced with the accordion.”
By chance she came across a phone number for Oey’s lessons at the VCAC and is glad she did.
“To say that Melly is excellent would be an understatement,” said Hein. “She develops her lessons to the needs of the student.
“The music Melly picks out for me is exactly what I need in order to feel I am becoming proficient. Through her gentle guidance I am developing a sense of confidence about my ability to play music.”
As the father of well-known Vernon musician Andrew Allen, student Ron Allen has a few of his own favourite songs, but admits he won’t be going on tour with his son anytime soon.
“I took lessons as a child and had been wanting to take them again since I retired, so when I saw Melly’s lessons in the VCAC brochure, I figured it was time,” said Allen. “It was strange to sit down at a keyboard again, but Melly is very patient.”
While Allen can already read music, what he didn’t have was sheet music for his son’s songs. So Oey painstakingly transposed the music, listening to the songs on YouTube and figuring out the songs note by note.
“Some of the songs were written on guitar, not piano, so Melly gets as close to the original as possible, and he was quite pleased that I was playing them,” said Allen. “I really enjoy it and some stuff comes back to you after so many years away from it, and it’s fun to play some of the familiar tunes.
“It’s the patterning and the commitment and the practice.”
Oey welcomes students of all ages and all abilities, from beginners to experienced.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re at, I will teach you from the beginning,” she said. “I enjoy teaching so much — the dynamics always change and when my students learn to play well, it makes me very happy because that’s why I gave up my accounting business to teach full-time, and I’m glad I did because I get so much out of it.”
Allen’s advice to other adults considering starting or returning to music lessons: “You just have to do it. If you’re interested, try it for a term and give it a try.
“After that, you just have to play — I refer to it more as playing and less as practice, this is not homework, as I’m choosing to do this, but you have to play at home.”
And Oey’s advice to her students is the same that music students have been given for generations.
“You just have to practice.”
Each session is 10 weeks, with adults taking a one-hour lesson each week, while kids can choose from a 45-minute lesson or a one-hour lesson. If they’re really young, Oey recommends just 45 minutes.
To register, drop by the VCAC, located at the entrance to Polson Park on Highway 6, call 250-542-6243 or see the Web site at www.vernonarts.ca (the new site will be up and running soon).