By Kristin Boza
When Anisha McFarland Hill, an accomplished vocalist and musician, founded The Music Scene in 2016, she wanted to give the gift of music to anyone over the age of 40. Since music education classes typically cater to the younger generation, Hill sought to help older people discover the beauty and joy of learning piano, English handbells, or voice.
Located in a space within Bethany Union Church, 1750 W. 103rd St., The Music Scene helps aspiring vocalists and pianists engage with their brains in a different way.
“This is an important group of people to offer services to,” Hill said. “I knew I wanted to work in this community where I live and serve people here. I want people to know that they don’t have to go far to get a quality musical experience. It’s important to me to stay on the South Side and bring out the talents of the people here.”
Hill’s oldest student is a 90-year-old pianist, who learned how to navigate virtual lessons once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This student seeks to strengthen her left hand, which was affected by a series of strokes.
“Since we’re doing the lesson virtually, this student has a lot to focus on cognitively because she not only is learning piano, but she has to focus hard to listen, repeat, and execute when I’m not able to be in the room with her,” Hill said. “She really enjoys our weekly lesson and I’m proud to give her something to look forward to, even if it’s just for a moment.”
Jamal is another student who is benefitting from piano lessons outside of a simple love of music. Jamal is 38 years old, and is blind and autistic. He’s spent many years in the men’s choir at Trinity United Church of Christ, where Hill also attends. “Music is for everybody. It is an experience that soothes and uplifts people,” Hill said. “Jamal cannot see, but his senses of hearing and touch are heightened. I work with him to explain the fundamentals of the piano and he learns to find the right keys by touch. I teach him to feel and use his ear to find middle C, and we do a lot of work with rhythms. I put all of these elements together at a pace that’s right for him.”
Hill says Jamal teaches her just as much as she teaches him. “As his instructor, I have to listen and watch as to how he’s processing my instructions. To see his development has been phenomenal. It’s all about patience, desire, and being willing to work together,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are or what challenges you have; The Music Scene is encouraging and gives people the opportunity to have a passion for music.”
To pivot during the pandemic, Hill realized it would be difficult to set up Zoom calls with her students, since many are elderly and don’t have access to technology. So, she uses Google Duo, a phone app that does not require an email address and easily allows her students to just click on the link to join the class. The Music Scene does host limited in-person classes for piano. All students are required to wear a mask and are placed six feet apart, and only four students are allowed in a class at a time. Hill hopes to be able to expand in-person offerings for piano and include voice lessons as well, once she and her students are fully vaccinated.
“Music is healing; it helps with discipline, hand-eye coordination, and it stimulates the mind,” Hill said. “I try to approach everything we do in a fun way so no one is feeling intimidated. It’s very rewarding.”
The spring session at The Music Scene begins on Apr. 12. Sign up for a class at TheMusicScene.co.