National concept’s move to Tempe sparks new interest in music

Hands-on instruction is the key to the school-based curriculum that sets Hovland Conservatory apart. (News Photo Alex J. Walker)
Hands-on instruction is the key to the school-based curriculum that sets Hovland Conservatory apart. (News Photo Alex J. Walker)

By Joyce Coronel

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With all the understandable emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, learning, there’s an important facet of education that some worry might be getting overlooked: music.

Happily, that’s not the case at Hovland Conservatory. A family-owned musical pursuit that spans four states has just opened its 12th location, this time in Tempe near U.S. 60 and Rural Road. Hovland, a non-profit organization that originated in 1989 in Minnesota, first came to Arizona 10 years ago. Mary Hovland founded the group, and her sons Peter and Andrew now help run the business.

Mary earned a degree in music and taught piano in a private school. After several years, she took a leap of faith and launched Hovland Conservatory.

“I saw there was a need for more structure and more curriculum-based lessons and how lessons are normally just sort of random,” Mary said. “We have a set curriculum which is unlike anybody else.”

Normally, if a parent wants a child to receive piano lessons, there’s a whole process of finding and interviewing teachers. Each teacher then decides what they’re going to do. Hovland operates differently.

“We have like 200 third graders,” Mary said. “Every third grader is doing the same lesson this week, just like they are doing the same lesson in school.” With some 1,200 students spread throughout Hovland’s 12 locations, it’s an organized way to keep students moving forward and learning music.

They’ve had their share of success stories through the years.

One former Hovland student won the talent portion of the Miss Teen America pageant. Others have gone on to become music teachers themselves.

“I have a student who’s a medical doctor who told me when I went to her graduation, ‘I don’t think I could have been a medical doctor if it wasn’t for my musical education.’ I said, ‘That’s a big statement, but I’ll take it.’”

Mary said she thinks music lessons help spark learning, particularly when they begin early in life.

“When you start them in kindergarten, it’s almost phenomenal how much smarter they become,” Mary said. “They are interacting with a teacher, answering questions and they’re moving from learning in a spontaneous way to learning in an organized way.”

And while “everybody loves music,” she said, not very many people know how to read it fluently. That’s why Hovland strives to reach out to more children to instill the discipline and joy of music. The results are encouraging.

“The kids who have ADHD, autistic kids, kids who have trouble at school, those are the ones that we can help,” Mary said.

“Music really helps them in a way that I don’t know anything else can. We have a lot of kids who come with motor skill problems. We can work with them, so those are huge success stories to me.”

Peter said one way Hovland is encouraging students to try music lessons is through its Budding Musician scholarship program.

“They can try two lessons for free without any obligation to continue,” Peter said. “Not a lot of families are doing music lessons. So our push as a non-profit is to get kids exposed to trying a piano lesson with the hope they’ll continue on.”

The one-on-one lessons are taught by one of Hovland’s 40 teachers who guide students through a grade-based curriculum. For those students who don’t begin in kindergarten, there are also classes geared toward various levels of learning.

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