Students hit the right note at CVU (Sept. 4, 2008)


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Williston sophomore Sierra Frisbie (center) practices playing on a guitar’s scales during Champlain Valley Union High School’s new guitar theory class, as sophomores Cat Hill (left) of Charlotte and Anya Rose of Williston listen.  

Sept. 4, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

On Tuesday morning, a class of 12 Champlain Valley Union High School sophomores, juniors and seniors picked the strings of various acoustic guitars in the new Basic Theory: Guitar class. Some students seemed at ease on the fret board, their fingers flying up and down the instrument, playing the scales at a fast and fluid pace. Others took their time with each string and note, becoming more and more familiar with the instrument.

All the while, music teacher Andy Miskavage worked with each student to teach musical scales, saying the name of each note as it was played. And while some students seemed nervous at the daunting task of learning notes and scale work, Miskavage put them at ease.

“Trust me, your fingers will learn this scale so fast, you’ll be able to fly up and down this board in no time,” he told the class.

Mike Blood, a Charlotte sophomore, strummed his black Gibson Maestro, working the scales up and down the fret board. His favorite band is the Red Hot Chili Peppers and he thinks Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is the best guitar player out there. He hopes the class will help him learn his favorite songs.

“I like a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll,” Blood said.

Beyond the guitar

Along with the guitar theory class, CVU is also offering a piano theory class and starting up a new string orchestra.

Miskavage said there has been a wide interest in all three subjects for years and the programs came together “suddenly” over the summer. As students return from summer break and learn about the programs, some of the sessions have begun to fill up. Miskavage’s guitar theory morning session is almost completely filled, he said. Students will learn mostly on acoustic guitars.

“We have a pretty good range of kids who are learning at different levels,” Miskavage said of his guitar theory class.

The music department recently hired a new part-time instructor, Deanna Smith, who teaches piano theory and the string orchestra. Smith’s start coincides with the program’s purchase of several new Yamaha keyboards. Miskavage said the piano class hasn’t “taken off” in enrollment like the guitar class, but he expects more students to join as they find more flexibility in their schedules.

Miskavage said the string orchestra meets with Smith most mornings from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. There is room for 30 to 40 students, but so far only “six or seven” students have enrolled in the first days of school, he said.

It’s an exciting time for the CVU music department, Miskavage said, adding the new programs offer new opportunities for students.

“We’re reaching out to the population of students who haven’t had the chance to explore certain types of music,” he said.

Playing along

Meeting for the just the second time this year, the guitar theory class was already making music on Tuesday.

“I’ve been saying for a while I’ve wanted to get (guitar) lessons, but it never happened,” said Mike Lyman, a senior from Hinesburg.

Sierra Frisbie, a sophomore from Williston who plays piano and sings with the music department, wanted to learn another instrument. The guitar caught her ear.

“It’s something I’ve been kind of wanting to do for a while,” Frisbie said.

Sophomore and Williston resident Anya Rose joined the class for similar reasons and said her father plays the instrument occasionally at home.

“He’s tried to teach me, but I think I needed more discipline,” Rose said. “He wants me to come home and teach him theory.”

Quinn Gilbert, a senior from Shelburne, and Joseph Letourneau, a senior from Hinesburg, have been playing music together for a number of years. Gilbert has been playing the guitar for close to four years and hopes to overcome his limitations on the instrument.

“You kind of hit a wall if you’re not studying the theory part of the music,” Gilbert said.

Letourneau, who usually plays bass guitar, said he hopes to become more proficient on the six-string guitar and improve his skills on both instruments.

“If I can get the theory and practice scales on (the guitar), it’ll be easier to transpose that to the bass,” Letourneau said.

Miskavage said while all his students may be at different learning levels, they can all use the benefits of learning theory.

“I’m going to arm the kids with the knowledge and the skills to get a running start with their guitar learning,” Miskavage said. “If they can have the theory, then they can pretty much figure out the rest themselves.”