Despite graduating with a music degree, MARY ANNE BLOCK of Barrington initially had no desire to teach piano. Instead, she went to law school and was a practicing attorney for 13 years. It was introducing her own young children to music through the Suzuki Music School of Barrington that re-instilled in her love for music. Overseeing her children’s at-home practice sessions ignited a passion for teaching. “I have lived in Barrington for almost 25 years and have been teaching private piano lessons out of my home studio for over 13 years,” says Block, founder of the nonprofit Music Blocks program. “While I have always tried to keep my rates reasonable, I could see that some very committed families were struggling to pay even a portion of my fees. I also observed through my daughters’ involvement in the school orchestra programs in District 220, a relatively high drop-out rate in orchestra between elementary and middle school and again between middle school and high school and some areas of our community were clearly underrepresented.” Founded in June 2017, Music Blocks launched its first pilot program at Sunny Hill Elementary in October to make private music lessons more accessible to students and to help students build a strong foundation in music literacy. Here are a few of Mary Anne’s lasts:
Song you heard that you couldn’t resist singing out loud?
As a classical musician and music teacher I am always hearing music and humming to myself. Most of the time it is a classical (or jazz) piece that I am teaching a student. Recently I started practicing a chamber work, the second movement of the Mendelssohn piano trio in d minor, that has completely possessed my senses with its gorgeous musical lines and counter melodies.
Movie you saw that inspired you?
The TV series, The Crown is the most inspirational film work that I have seen in recent months. The depiction of Queen Elizabeth II is quite moving. She is a woman who unquestionably assumes a role she doesn’t particularly desire, lacking the interest in the publicity that her sister craves, and embraces the governing responsibilities with the utmost dignity and perseverance in the face of scandal, government instability, and marital infidelities that threaten the monarchy. She is a model of personal sacrifice summed up with the direction from her grandmother—when it comes to personal interests and the interests of the crown, “the crown always wins.”
Amazing book that you read that you told your friends about?
The last really good book I read was All the Light You Cannot See, another work of perseverance and grit, beautifully written and heart-wrenching at times.
Moment at Music Blocks where you realized that the work you do there is changing lives?
The mission at Music Blocks is to provide access to the building blocks of music literacy and our goal is to provide an opportunity to those less fortunate for whom private piano lessons are financially out of reach. Many of our students are children of first generation immigrants and those communities have historically fought challenges of discrimination and racial barriers. At Music Blocks, we are giving these students an opportunity to participate in a program which has proven cognitive, social, and psychological benefits. We are helping to provide them with the tools to rise above these challenges and, as they grow, prove that they can make an important contribution to our society.
Impulse decision that you will never regret?
My decision to create Music Blocks was quite impulsive. It occurred to me quite suddenly when I met our Executive Director, Kelly McCallum, at a music teacher new member coffee and she told me about her experience starting and building a scholarship-based program for music lessons in Fort Collins, Colorado. With virtually no experience in nonprofits, I decided at that moment I wanted to establish a similar offering in the greater Barrington area.