STUART – Back in 2003, Margaret (“Peggy”) O’Neill realized that string instruments were not being taught to children in any of the local schools, apart from one private Christian academy. This rather stark realization was the inspiration for Bach’s Children’s Music School, a nonprofit music academy, of which Ms. O’Neill is the director. According to her staff, she is also the heart and soul of the place in every respect, though she is not much for accolades, even richly deserved ones.
With generous support from the Arts Council of Martin County and Women Supporting the Arts, Bach’s Children’s Music School offers classical music instruction in violin, viola, piano, and guitar. No student is turned away for lack of funds, in keeping with Ms. O’Neill’s firm belief that access to music shouldn’t be limited to just one group of people.
Bach’s Children’s Music School is for students of all ages, and their students have ranged in age from 3 to 90 years old.
Ms. O’Neill teaches violin and viola. Bob Swinton and Rowdy Carlton both teach guitar. Copeland Davis, nationally renowned jazz pianist and Emmy nominee, has recently joined the staff for piano instruction. They are also currently seeking to hire a cello teacher.
The onset of Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the small school. Their mainstay face to face lessons were no longer possible, and the fate of the program seemed very much in doubt. But thanks to the ‘technical wizardry’ of Mr. Swinton, virtual lessons were made available via Zoom. Mr. Swinton also makes private lessons available through his own website, Music a la Carte, as well as via YouTube.
While Ms. O’Neill admits to not being a fan of such technology, she believes absolutely that it kept her school alive through the pandemic. Although face-to-face lessons are starting back up, virtual lessons will still be available as long as there is an interest.
Ms. O’Neill began her musical journey on Long Island at age 5, studying violin and viola. She has been teaching for 53 years and is still an active musician herself, playing in small bands and classical quartets. On a quick tour through the facility, Ms. O’Neill points out the photographs of former students who have gone on to make a professional life of music. Her sense of ‘parental pride’ is unmistakable.
Mr. Swinton took up classical guitar at age 9 in Minneapolis. In his 20s, he expanded his repertoire to include folk music, jazz, and country during a 12-year swing through the Western United States. He has been teaching for about 30 years.
Mr. Carlton began playing guitar at age 7 in Ohio. Around age 14 he began teaching guitar with an emphasis on classical music. He was entirely self-taught until 2006 when he began formally studying the instrument. He also performs as part of a local group called the Rowdy Micks Celtic Band.
Mr. Davis began playing piano around age 7. He later attended FAU and graduated in 1972 with a degree in composition and arranging. He has appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as in his own PBS Special, “Copeland Davis in Concert”.
When asked about the school’s name- Why Bach, and not Mozart or Beethoven? - Ms. O’Neill explained that JS Bach was not only prolific in his musical life, but also in his private life, fathering 20 children in his lifetime. Several of his offspring became as well-known for their music as their famous father, including Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Johann Christian. His musical legacy has lived on through his children, and their children, and many subsequent generations.
BCMS is offering a series of free chamber music concerts the last Friday of every month from 5-6 p.m. at the Gazebo on Ocean Boulevard in Stuart. These entertaining evenings are made possible through the generous sponsorship of local organizations, such as the Arts Council of Martin County (https://www.martinarts.org/) and Women Supporting the Arts (https://www.facebook.com/womensupportingthearts/).
May 28th will be the first in the concert series. Bring a blanket or lawn chair and come hear the music play!
For more information about the concert series, music lessons, or to donate to the school’s scholarship fund, please visit their website at - http://www.bachschildrenmusicschool.com/ or by phone at (772) 266-8636.
JS Bach once said, “It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.”
Thanks to the encouragement, inspiration, and dedication of the staff at BCMS, beautiful music is being made on the Treasure Coast, one key stroke at a time.