The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

July 22, 2012

In perfect harmony ...

Philanthropist, school partnership is music to children's ears

BEAVER — Charles Lee Hicks, CEO of The School of Harmony in Beaver, didn’t know it, but he was about to be given yet another reason to sing.

“She walked in and said she didn’t think students in our area had a lot of opportunity for training in classical music. She said she wanted to do anything possible to help educate our students.”

The “she” was Alexandria, Va., music lover Melinda Mount. And what she did next ratcheted progress that had already been whirring along at a steady pace since the larger school’s opening four years ago, up another octave.

“She said she was going to give $6,000 per year, indefinitely, for a scholarship for five students to come to the school.”

Melinda and her husband Bill Miller, who maintain a second home at Glade Springs, had eaten in the Harmony Café, one of the cooperative businesses housed inside the school’s complex, when Mount’s cognitive wheels started turning toward assisting the school she was so impressed by.

“Her only stipulation was to make sure it was for students desiring to be taught classical music,” Hicks explains.

Two local students who demonstrated both need and desire and who both play the violin are now recipients of their share of Mount’s gift. School of Harmony is evaluating more applications to fill the three available scholarship openings.

What also moved Mount, by her admission, were the rigorous standards held in place for other scholarship recipients at the school, encouraging commitment to their studies.

“It takes a special student to pursue classical music,” she says, speaking from her Alexandria home. “Specifically, studying classical keeps them organized and focused. They have to practice what they do over and over again. If a student gets involved with a program in school, in college or even as a professional career later, it has to start early. At (School of Harmony), they really have to keep their noses to the grindstone.”

Mount believes doing big things requires big thinking, on the part of the donor and the recipient.

“I didn’t want to start small. I think that music education is extraordinarily important for the development of children, and West Virginia is an underserved area in music. (Hicks) told me what was needed, and I said ‘Done!’”

Hicks echoes Mount’s concern that music is slipping farther away from core curriculum in schools and that classical, in particular, is entirely off the agenda.

“I do feel like this is helping bridge that gap. Classical music is just not in the schools anymore. When music programs are cut, classical music takes an even more distant back seat.”

School of Harmony offers professional instruction in 20 different disciplines; the two focal instruments for classical training are piano and violin.

“We are accepting applications for the remaining three scholarships that are open,” Hicks explains. “The applications will be accepted until Sept. 10 and may be filled out online at schoolofharmony.com. Potential students can also pick up an application at the school.”

As for Mount, she is pleased to make a difference in perpetuating the music that has meant so much to her throughout her life.

“I sang for years in the choir and I attempted violin and piano in my very early stages of development. But my love for classical developed from church music. I’m a generalist; there are very few music forms I don’t like.”

Still, the burden she felt noticing a diminishing presence of symphonies and classical concerts in southern West Virginia serving to carry the genre forward, compelled her to focus her efforts on strengthening future generations toward the music of maestros.

The part she plays may not be upon an instrument, but it is instrumental in continuing what has been started at School of Harmony for southern West Virginia’s benefit.

“Here was the old Shady High School building just sitting and waiting for someone to take over and do something positive with it. I decided I didn’t want to wait to die to hand over money to help. I wanted to give where and when it was most needed.”

For more information on School of Harmony, visit www.schoolofharmony.com or call 304-253-3095.

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

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