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Music Preparatory Division: History

Suzuki violin students rehearsing

In 1980 Dr. Robert Blocker, Chair of the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music, and Shirley Wolfson Watterston, established a music program that would “teach music to children” from newborns to age 18. The program, a part of the SFA School of Music, was named the SFA Music Preparatory Division. The Division became an associate member of the National Guild of the Community Schools of the Arts in 1996—the first community school in Texas to do so!

Shirley Watterston was the Director of the SFA Music Preparatory Division from 1980 to 1995. For fifteen years she was the “mover and shaker” of the program. “A growing awareness of beauty in sound” reflected the philosophy and purpose of the program under her direction and continues today in the quality of the program. Approximately 250 children are involved in the program each semester. Former directors include Linda Parr and Bobbie Ann Anderson. Brenda Josephsen served as interim director in 1998. Pat Barnett assumed the director position in February 1999.

Private music lessons in harp, classical guitar, piano, flute, saxophone, voice, Suzuki violin, violin, fiddle, percussion, cello and other instruments are offered. Classes in Musicianship are also offered to beginning and intermediate students who attend eight semesters of classes. Kindermusik, an internationally known program for infants through age seven, is offered in classes of “Village,” “Imagine That,” “Our Time,” and the “Young Child” series. Choral programs offered for children from kindergarten through high school include Live Wire, Lyric and Junior Chorale. The Piney Woods Youth Orchestra, organized by Dr. Eugene Raychev in collaboration with his wife, Dr. Jennifer Dalmas in the fall of 2004, fulfills the need for the development of the classical ensemble for young people. Music therapy is also offered.

During the summer months, Music Prep offers FlexLessons so that students can continue studying music with highly flexible schedules of four, six or eight lessons. Music Prep also offers Kindermusik Adventure Camps for newborns to 7-year-olds and Music Discovery Camp for children in second through sixth grades.

Adults are welcome to explore the “wonderful world of music” by enrolling for private lessons or in the intermediate adult piano class.

Scholarship fund-raisers are an integral part of the program. In April 1999, the Music Preparatory Division presented “Musical Time Machine—A Musical Journey Through History.” In November 2000, a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the program honoring Shirley Watterston, the first director, was presented in the Grand Ballroom of the SFA University Center with the theme, “We've Got Rhythm,”—a musical walk through the streets of Paris! In support of the Nine Flags’ Festival, “Echoes from the Woods: A Musical Salute to the Nine Flags,” was performed on Cole Concert Stage in 2002. Prep students performed for audiences to raise funds for partial scholarships to be awarded to students in need of financial assistance. Besides raising funds, these fund-raisers allow the students a positive musical experience—and a little musical history, too!

In September 2005, a unique scholarship fund-raiser celebrated the 25th anniversary of Music Prep! A wine and cheese party at The Art Center began the festivities, and the crowd then moved to the Grand Ballroom of SFA’s University Center for a silent auction and Texas barbecue buffet. After dinner, Amy Key, account supervisor and part-time stand-up comic, emceed “A Piney Woods Home Companion,” a take-off on “A Prairie Home Companion.” SFA graduates Brad Maule, best known for his role as Dr. Tony Jones on the ABC television show, “General Hospital,” and John Dickson, composer and arranger, entertained the crowd. Local entertainers rounded out the program. The event raised funds for partial scholarships and funded the “Sponsor-A-Child” program, which financially supports a child studying music through the Prep program.