Ms. Georgia grows piano lessons into arts academy
La Plata resident realizes dream after raising family
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.
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.