Memories of Snow

Chris Scherer

Winter is strange in California. All the songs and movies paint winter as an icy wonderland, but here in Fresno, it hasn’t snowed since 1998. Fresno isn’t the only place I have lived where we never got a white Christmas. I was born in Los Angeles, but I spent the early part of my childhood in Seoul, South Korea. Seeing snow in that city was a big deal. I remember one year when we woke up and were amazed to find a white blanket of snow covering the ground outside. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen snow, but the memory sticks out in my mind. There wasn’t a lot of snow, but my brother and I were still excited to run out of the apartment and make a snowman. It lasted for about an hour before the sun came back out and melted everything away.

The next time I saw a lot of snow was after my family moved to the United States. We were living in Boston and the winter was so bad, we got snowed in. My brother and I had to dig ourselves out so we could get to school in the morning. The experience was a big shock to us. This was during our first year living in America, and it was one of the many times I realized that living in this new country was going to be even more different than I had imagined. I was 7 when we moved back to the United States. My brother and I both had mixed feelings about the whole thing. I was so young that I wasn’t fully cognizant of what was going on. My brother was 10, so his experience was different because he had more memories of our life in South Korea. Though I was still very young, I do remember being struck by how different everything was. The people were different, the food was different, and even the schools were different. When I went to school in Seoul, the students all sat according to an alternating boy-girl seating chart and focused entirely on doing school work. When I walked into my first class in America, I was shocked to see all the kids sitting on the carpet, reading books together. Of course, the language was different, too. Though I took English classes in Korea, I wasn’t great at it when we moved, but I learned soon enough. It was my mom’s hope and dream to come to America.

Back in the early ’90s when we moved, Seoul was a very different place than it is today. Once we were in the United States, my mom had to raise my brother and me as a single parent, and she worked hard to give us the advantages provided by this country. My identity and the trajectory of my life were shaped by this move. Everything about who I am as a person, a musician, and an instructor stems from the fact that I moved from Seoul to Boston. The last time I visited Seoul was in 2013, and after I saw how much the city had changed from when I was a kid, I started to think about how different my life would have been had my family stayed in South Korea. I wouldn’t have the friends and colleagues I know today, and I wouldn’t have the conservatory were it not for moving to the United States. I know my life would be less fulfilling if I wasn’t able to teach music, and though the transition had been difficult, I wouldn’t change a thing.

–Christopher Scherer

The Path to Music

How do you become a musician?

When I was growing up, practice was a battle of wills between my mom and me. She won some battles; I almost won sometimes. I began playing cello primarily because I knew I would never be better than my sister at violin. She worked harder- a lot harder – so she was always going to be better. I wasn’t really happy about practicing. In my defense, I was in first grade, so … yeah, Mom won.

 Leo’s Student Jacob earned his Songbird Wristband!

Leo’s Student Jacob earned his Songbird Wristband!

I played cello throughout elementary and middle school, but I didn’t actually enjoy playing until I had a group of friends who played instruments too. We played in quartets and played chamber music together, and finally, around the same time, Mom’s perseverance started to pay off. I started to enjoy because, finally, it started sounding good, and I was having fun. I continued to play throughout high school and college, but it never occurred to me to pursue it as a career.

After college, I spent a few years in the military, and when I returned to Fresno, I reconnected with my high school orchestra teacher, John Morrice, who invited me to join a community orchestra. The timing of his offer was, shall we say, inconvenient. I had inadvertently broken my cello, and it was still being repaired. The loaner cello I had was really, really, really bad. But I ended up playing in the orchestra, and this really, really, really bad cello turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

My stand partner in the orchestra was an older gentleman named Jim Warwick. Jim was an emeritus professor of philosophy from the University of Colorado. He was a good cellist and a man with a very giving nature. After a few months of watching and listening to me play, he gifted me his cello with one single caveat: “If you take further studies in music, I will gift you my cello.”

 

“It’s been 10 years since Jim gifted me his cello,

and the course of my life changed in

unexpected ways”

 Leo and Chris with Anthony Melchiorri, host of Travel Channels Hotel Impossible

Leo and Chris with Anthony Melchiorri, host of Travel Channels Hotel Impossible

This was not a small gesture. Jim’s cello was an award-winning instrument and had tremendous value. Cellos of this type routinely sell for the same price as mid-level luxury vehicles, without the depreciation. Unlike cars, cellos go up in value as they got older. When I met Jim, what I did not know was that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and he wanted his cello to be used to further a young cellist’s career. In my case, it would start my career. And to accept his gift, I went back to school and got a master’s degree in music from California State University, Fresno.

It’s been 10 years since Jim gifted me his cello, and the course of my life changed in unexpected ways. I began teaching music privately out of my home, having around 40 private students. At the same time, I invited other teachers to teach siblings of my students in the other rooms of my house. About four years ago, my ex-fiancée introduced me to Christopher Scherer. Our partnership would eventually lead to the foundation of the United Conservatory of Music, Fresno. This past January we had about 90 students; by the end of this year, we will have well over 300.

Yes I did give my mom a hard time about practicing- obviously I’m not angry about it! Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have considered being a musician, but today, not only do I teach in a wonderful school, I get to work in a community of music teachers in Fresno. Music has always been here before, and it will be after me. I really never expected to be a musician, let alone encourage others to be a musicians. But at UCM we are doing just that, hiring musicians to be teachers, teaching the next generation of patrons(!), and with a few of those students … musicians … although their path to music may be more surprising than they imagined.

 

-Leo Kim

Music lessons for kids

I entered my 30s in June 8th of this year. Every two years of my life something happens so unexpectedly, to the point where I am now just open to all possibilities everywhere. If you had told me in 2016 that I would be a director of a music school I would have probably laughed. Nowhere in my life plan was something like that in my imagination. I started piano at age 5, and didn’t get too far. I wish I had kept it up as I had great piano teachers, but like many youngsters I was more interested in Legos than practicing. A lot of our young kids display so much talent right from the beginning it is easy for them to get distracted. Thats why we have something like the Musical Ladder System to help kids to be able to earn wristbands and trophies to keep them focused. Aside from that we have special prizes kids can earn for doing a good job in the class and earning stickers! Especially for our young kids it helps them to be able to stay interested so that they can continually improve, whether they are a young 5 year old future rockstar guitar player, or a 12 year old pianist, or a 60 year old taking voice lessons, we have something that can engage them and keep everyone having fun.

Rockstar Guitar Child
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Group Piano Lesson

Private Lessons or Group Lessons?

Private lessons are a great way for a child to get started in their musical journey. Here at United Conservatory we often have kids as young as 4 start in piano, guitar, voice, and many other instruments. With private instruction you or your child will receive individualize attention, a special curriculum designed just for you in mind, and a teacher that knows your personality and your goals and will help you to reach them.

Group lessons can be quite fun! In our school we have hour long classes held in the weekends for our group programs. It is a fun experience where kids get a chance to interact with each other and learn from their peers. It is certainly a valid method of learning the instrument, if you are a beginner, in an engaging way. While it won’t have the individualized attention of a private class, it is a great approach to learning.

For our serious students who take hour long classes we recommend that you take part in our chamber music program. It is a great way to learn and showcase your skills, and play with people your age and grow in your musical skills.

Both of these methods are valid, and proven methods of learning an instrument and we encourage parents to try all the various methods!

The Joy of Music: My Life with the Violin

I’ve been playing violin all my life. When I was a kid, my mom took me to see a show at a music school. We saw a kid playing the violin on stage, with everyone watching him. I remember thinking he looked very serious, but he also seemed like he was having a good time. It was really cool, and when my mom asked me if I wanted to play the violin too, I decided to go for it.

Today, I can’t imagine my life without the violin. I love the beautiful sound of the instrument and the way it allows me to express myself. It’s a powerful thing to be able to relay your thoughts and feelings through a medium that doesn’t use words but can say so much through sound. This is why I am so passionate about teaching at the United Conservatory of Music.

Years ago, a friend of mine, Leo Kim, and his fiancée recommended I come out here and start teaching music. I’d finished with my master’s degree and wanted to keep playing the violin in my career. Leo and his fiancée broke up before I was ready to move, and there was a moment when I was unsure whether I should still move or not.  But Leo offered me an opportunity to stay at his house while I started teaching in schools, and I knew this was not an opportunity I wanted to miss. Teaching in schools evolved into teaching out of the house, which became a studio, which evolved further into the Conservatory it is today.

I enjoy working with kids of all ages. It’s amazing to see their growth and the joy on their faces as they learn music and discover something about music they never knew before. Throughout my life, I had many talented instructors, but I didn’t always feel like they were the best teachers for me. At the Conservatory, we have many great instructors so that we can make sure students are able to learn from a teacher they connect with in one-on-one sessions. No matter what instrument a student wants to play, I want the Conservatory to foster a community that is fun and supportive, where people can come together and fall in love with music.

It’s important to make learning fun, especially for kids. Yes, playing an instrument is hard work, but there’s no reason students shouldn’t enjoy their lessons. Learning an instrument like the violin can be trying because you don’t know that you’re progressing until many years later. If kid’s aren’t enjoying the experience of learning and playing music, they quit, even if they’re getting better. This is really tragic because not only do they miss out on the joys of music, but they also lose the chance to learn many life skills that come through music and art.

It felt like a big risk to go down this path with music, but I knew this was what I wanted to do, no matter what the chance of success may be. I only have one life and I want to spend it doing something I love. As I look at where I am today and at the students I have the privilege of working with, I’m glad I took that risk. The violin is still my life, and I’m proud to have the opportunity to share the joy of music with others.

-Christopher Scherer

 

 

 

 

 

Musical Goals

 Jade takes violin lessons and recently received her Song Bird Trophy!

Jade takes violin lessons and recently received her Song Bird Trophy!

So just how will you know if your child is making progress in music lessons? Well we have our Musical Ladder System to help! Say your child began taking guitar lessons or piano lessons, of course you want them to practice and improve. Practicing is not the most fun word ever created and it’s definitely not a favorite activity of music students, but we inspire our students to achieve more through this system. This music teaching system is being used by music schools across the US and Canada to inspire music students to practice more and enhance their love for music. Similar to karate belt tests, every 90 days or so students have a test with their private music instructor. When they pass they receive really cool color wristbands with the name of the level they passed. They also receive a certificate and at some levels a trophy. More importantly when our students have a test coming up, they practice more, their parents are proud, their teachers are proud, and everybody wins!


Lets keep making music!

Musical Ladder Picture

What Should You Expect in Your Childs First Lesson?

That is the question that I believe is in the minds of a lot of prospective parents. It is an exciting moment to come in for your first private music lesson! Our most popular instruments for beginners is piano, voice, guitar and violin. For kids ages 4 we recommend that they start with piano, as it is the easiest instruments to get started with and kids can get an immediate feedback from what they do on the keyboard. The most important thing is that your child has fun, and enjoys this new world of music and art. Kids ages 4-8 will rarely practice on their own, (speaking from personal experience) so don’t be discouraged if they are not practicing in the beginning. It is a process and continued exposure to music, and weekly lessons will excite them to continue their musical journey.

Lets Keep Making Music!

 Piano Lessons are one of the best ways to get exposed to music!

Piano Lessons are one of the best ways to get exposed to music!