Ms. Ge­or­gia grows pi­ano lessons into arts academy

La Plata res­i­dent re­al­izes dream af­ter rais­ing fam­ily

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

Ge­or­gia Bon­ney is re­al­iz­ing her child­hood dream this fall. Af­fec­tion­ately known as Ms. Ge­or­gia by her pi­ano stu­dents, the La Plata res­i­dent opened Ms Ge­or­gia’s Cre­ative Arts Academy in her home. Classes be­gan Sept. 12.

“The academy is some­thing that I’ve thought about since I was in my early teens,” Bon­ney said in an in­ter­view. “I re­mem­ber sit­ting there talk­ing to my mom and say­ing, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a place, a school where you taught po­etry and mu­sic and art and dance and all th­ese things.’ That was sort of a young dream and it got put aside as I went through my grad­u­ate work and ev­ery­thing.”

Ini­tially, Bon­ney is of­fer­ing lessons in pi­ano, brass, wood­winds and strings as well as art classes but hopes to ex­pand into dance. In­di­vid­ual lessons are ei­ther 18 or 36 weeks, once a week, and classes are in 16-week terms, also once a week.

Eight in­struc­tors have signed on so far, in­clud­ing her hus­band, Philip, who is a French horn player.

“The academy is new, but it’s cer­tainly an out­growth from the pi­ano in­struc­tion,” Philip said, ref­er­enc­ing the cur­rent 65 pi­ano stu­dents. “And she’s done some art sum­mer camps. She did eight dif­fer­ent sum­mer camps this year — a week long and var­i­ous ages.”

“Ge­or­gia has taught pi­ano and worked with chil­dren since she was a teenager,” he added. “Through col­lege, she taught young pi­anists.”

The two met at grad­u­ate school in Cal­i­for­nia and ul­ti­mately mar­ried just be­fore tak­ing ad­van­tage of a Ful­bright grant to study at the Vi­enna Con­ser­va­tory in Aus­tria, and per­form around Eastern Europe. That was af­ter she had earned two grad­u­ate de­grees in pi­ano, study­ing with mas­ters in the field.

Af­ter com­ing back to the United States and work­ing at sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties, she and Philip de­cided to start a fam­ily.

“Then I started hav­ing chil­dren and he was trans­ferred over­seas,” Ge­or­gia said, ref­er­enc­ing Philip’s Army ca­reer — he ini­tially joined to play French horn pro­fes­sion­ally. “I just ded­i­cated my life to my chil­dren for 20 years. We ended up home­school­ing be­cause we were get­ting moved to Africa, then to Italy and all over the place, so it was the best ap­proach for us. That also helped me to ex­pand and see other cur­ricu­lums, to see how things are pre­sented. All those years, I’ve been ex­plor­ing cur­ricu­lums.”

Their 14 chil­dren, split be­tween eight girls and six boys, all play pi­ano. Teach­ing them kept her hand in both ed­u­ca­tion and mu­sic.

“I started teach­ing pi­ano for the ex­tra funds and all of a sud­den peo­ple are ask­ing ques­tions [about other in­stru­ments]... and it just started tak­ing on a life of its own,” she said. “My dream started com­ing true. I started to see that there’s a real need here. There’s not a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties for kids to go to art lessons here. There’s not a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties, cre­atively speak­ing, from what I had seen when we were liv­ing all over the world.”

For both mu­sic and art in­struc­tion, Ge­or­gia is draw­ing from tal­ent in the area and, us­ing her mu­sic cre­den­tials, is cre­at­ing link­ages with the Univer­sity of Mary­land and the Kennedy Cen­ter to set up a flow of tal­ented stu­dents and pro­fes­sion­als to help out with teach­ing and spe­cial pre­sen­ta­tions.

Comic artist Keir Lyles of La Plata (for­merly of Waldorf) is teach­ing a class on “the art of comic cre­ation” as one of the non-mu­sic cour­ses. Be­tween comic book com­mis­sions and de­vel­op­ing his own works, he teaches as part of a comic arts al­liance in the re­gion but sees ver y lit­tle work in South­ern Mary­land.

“I’m very ex­cited about it — just for the op­por­tu­nity to work with kids in Charles County,” Lyles said.

“And I’m thrilled. Ab­so­lutely thrilled,” said Dee Wil­liamson of White Plains, whose grand­son is one of Ge­or­gia’s pi­ano stu­dents. “We thought that we were go­ing to be mov­ing to Anne Arun­del County for my grand­son’s school­ing. But we knew that, even if we had moved to Anne Arun­del County, we’d have to change our prac­tice day to a Satur­day so that we could con­tinue mak­ing that trek out to La Plata.”

Her grand­son, Isa­iah Se­say, 12, is stay­ing at Matthew Hen­son Mid­dle School where he plays clar­inet.

“I’m try­ing to de­cide whether I want to be­come a stu­dent in this cre­ative arts academy, for voice,” Wil­liamson said. “When she told us about it back in the spring or so, my eyes perked up. I was like ‘Oh no, op­por­tu­nity is fall­ing right in my lap.’ So, I may do that.”

So far, Ge­or­gia and Philip are pulling re­sources from ever ywhere they can, in­clud­ing from fam­ily loans and their per­sonal bank ac­counts, to pur­chase needed equip­ment — they now have three up­right and three grand pi­anos — and fix up rooms in the house.

“I al­ready have wait­ing lists for the in­stru­ments and peo­ple sign­ing up for the art classes,” she said. “For­tu­nately, I’ve been able to build the base and I have a good foun­da­tion to work off of.”

Be­tween mu­sic lessons and her week­long camps this sum­mer, she al­ready had a pool of 200 fam­i­lies to help get the word out and sign up for classes. She’s con­fi­dent the growth from “zero to 200 fam­i­lies in two years” will con­tinue and al­low her to move the academy into its own space within the next two years.

“That’s my vi­sion, to move into a house with a big yard. I want to trans­form a house into an arts academy, where you can have a back­yard, where you can have [mu­sic ther­apy] pets,” she said. Go­ing be­yond STEM Ge­or­gia said, while she re­al­izes the im­por­tance of science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math, the hard fo­cus is tak­ing away from needed “soft skills.”

“The thing about Amer­ica that’s al­ways made it dif­fer­ent is that we have a cre­ative spirit and we have the free­dom to ex­press that,” she said. “With our fo­cus on STEM... we’re ne­glect­ing the other, very im­por­tant side of chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, which is to al­low them to feel con­fi­dent, to al­low them to ex­press who they truly are, to al­low them to de­velop the soft skills that will put them ahead, no mat­ter what field, whether an en­gi­neer or an artist.”

“If you look at some of the great ex­ec­u­tives in the world — the pres­i­dent of the World Bank, [Alan] Greenspan, Con­doleezza Rice — there are hun­dreds of great peo­ple who at­tribute their suc­cess to study­ing the arts, be­cause it helps them bring all that to­gether.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, go to www.ms­ge­or­giascre­ativeart­sacademy.com.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Ge­or­gia Bon­ney of La Plata started Ms Ge­or­gia’s Cre­ative Arts Academy in her home.

From left, Dee Wil­liamson of White Plains, a stu­dent’s grand­mother, Ge­or­gia and Philip Bon­ney and Keir Lyles of La Plata, a car­toon draw­ing in­struc­tor, pose in front of the Bon­ney home.

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