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Janet Tschida believes that, over the last 10 years, Maranatha Piano Prep School has helped change the Watertown community’s perception of the College.
“Many of our families tell us that Maranatha is not at all what they thought,” said Tschida, a Music Department Assistant Professor. “They are so pleased with the Piano Prep School, and they also can’t believe the excellent quality of the College recitals and concerts. Many tell me Watertown is ‘lucky’ to have Maranatha.”
The Piano Prep School was established during the 2001-02 academic year by Dee Thelen, a former faculty member. Thelen, who now teaches at a Christian school in Georgia, said God blessed her initiative “exceedingly abundantly above what I had ever thought or dreamed.”
“I had the best of both worlds,” Thelen said. “Being at home with my family; experiencing the excitement of producing piano players whom the Lord might use in the local church and schools; plus the added benefit of being able to contribute financially to the household budget.”
Thelen, who had taught at a piano prep school in Illinois, used that experience to form her business plan. The Administrative Cabinet approved Thelen’s proposal, dedicating space in Century House to what is now the piano lab and approving the purchase of several pianos.
“I am grateful that God has put together the very talented and dedicated staff to continue the program,” Thelen said.
Tschida took over the program after the first year. Enrollment has climbed to an average of 90 students each year under her watch.
“We have found that the most successful advertisement for us has been ‘word of mouth,’ ” Tschida said.
The marketing plan began during the early years, when the school worked to develop a core of private-lesson students. Satisfied parents began to tell other parents about the school. Dr. Jane Brotski said she is among those satisfied parents.
“The program produces a well-rounded musician with skills in technique, sight-reading, music theory, and performance,” Brotski said. “Janet Tschida is wonderful at inspiring children to play with great musicianship and technical skill. We highly recommend the Piano Prep School programs!”
A greater variety of group class offerings followed. The school’s staff also expanded, offering Maranatha music students more educational experiences. The school now pays an average of 10 college pedagogy majors and minors each semester to teach private lessons as well as classes for the early childhood music and movement program, graded theory program, musicianship classes, and piano ensembles.
“Many musicians think, ‘If I can play excellently, I can teach excellently,’” Tschida said. “However, the pedagogy students quickly realize that being good at an instrument hardly enables one to teach successfully. Just as music is a skill that requires practice, teaching is also a skill that requires practice.”
The school has put in place an extensive evaluation program for both students and teachers. Maranatha is an official examination site for the National Piano Guild and The Achievement Program (formerly known as the National Music Certificate Program). Students participate in the National Federation of Music Clubs, the Baroque Music Festival, the Sonatina Festival, the Wisconsin Schools Music Association Solo and Ensemble, and the Wisconsin Association of Christian Schools fine arts competition.
Student teachers are evaluated weekly. Tschida reviews a videotaped lesson, checks the piano student’s progress, then suggests any needed changes in type and frequency of teacher input.
Abigail Call (’11), who now teaches music at a Christian school in Missouri, was one student who benefitted from the Piano Prep School teaching experience.
“People (at my school) keep asking me why I am so comfortable teaching right out of college,” Call said. “I tell them it is because Maranatha trains you very well, and gave me three-plus years of teaching experience before I graduated. I am grateful for that.”