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April 17, 2007 > It's all about soul

It's all about soul

By Julie Grabowski

In the upstairs rooms of the Anna Poklewski Academy of Music, young voices chatter and laugh and parents discuss classes amid the slow determined notes of a piano piece in progress. There are homey sofas in the foyer as well as a few stray Cheerios on the floor. New gleaming black Kawai pianos stand in each compact practice room, and the 50 capacity recital hall looks out onto the peaceful Fremont hillside. It is a dream come to fruition, one that began in the heart of a young Polish girl many years ago.

Anna Poklewski received her piano training at the University of Krakow and the Royal Academy of Music in London, and has performed extensively throughout Europe, Australia, and the U.S. She helped form the prestigious International Viardo Competition and has served as a juror and instructor for many years. Several of Poklewski's students have competed in national and international contests and taken top prizes, including Howard Na who won second prize in the Kosciuszko Foundation International Chopin Competition in New York City and Naomi Iwase first prize winner at the Philipsse International Piano Competition in Belgium.

In recognition of her highly regarded teaching gifts, Poklewski received a Distinguished Teachers Award in 1991 from former President George Bush at the White House. She has taught in conservatories around the world and continues to travel annually to China, Mexico, England, and Poland to teach master classes. She has been instructing our own Bay Area musical talents for thirty years as a faculty member of the De Anza College Music Department in Cupertino.

"I dream all my life to open a special type of school for kids," says Poklewski, whose aims go far beyond just the teaching of notes and "pounding the piano." She stresses the importance of creation, making and sharing music as spiritual development, leading people to be "more sensitive to the beauty of the world." Poklewski also believes that young children who are exposed to music are smarter and learn faster; the independent movement of two hands on the keyboard, a foot working the pedal, and eyes reading the music develops different parts of the brain.

The academy follows the Jaques-Dalcroze method, which is succinctly explained by the Dalcroze Society of America: "The Dalcroze approach to music learning teaches musical concepts through rhythmic movement, expressive aural training, and physical, vocal, and instrumental improvisation." These three interconnected concepts are seen as an essential foundation for any vocal or instrument study. "The Dalcroze approach views the qualities of music as fundamental forces in human life, and emphasizes music's connections to other arts - dance, drama, and poetry especially - as well as fundamental human activities involving movement, language, and emotion. The Dalcroze method sees music as a fundamental language of the human brain and therefore deeply connected to who we are as human beings."

Co-directors Bianca Roesli and Fonny Chandra, both former students of Poklewski, share the day-to-day operations of the academy and serve as the primary piano instructors. Roesli earned her BA in Music from the University of Notre Dame in Belmont, and Chandra studied at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, obtaining her Masters Degree in Piano Performance under the tutelage of world-renown pianist Vladimir Viardo. All academy instructors have studied with Poklewski and hold degrees. Nine are currently on staff, four teaching piano and one apiece for other instruments: guitar, cello, vocal, violin, and flute. Trumpet classes have just been added and there are future hopes for choir and small orchestra offerings. Though instrument classes are diversifying, the piano is the academy's main instrument and the foundation for all others.

Since its January 25 opening of this year, the academy has already enrolled over 70 students. Classes are designed for ages three and up with group and individual lessons offered. Very young students start in group classes where interaction with peers promotes better learning. Groups are comprised of no more than six students who receive individual attention at their own digital piano. After learning basic rhythm and reading, students move on to individual instruction, which allows them to move at their own pace. Poklewski says that the academy motto is "Program to the Kid," stressing the importance of teachers adjusting to the pace of the student, letting them develop and grow at their individual rate. "Always have the development of the student first," says Poklewski.

Environment is another important factor. Poklewski recalls many dark, tomblike practice rooms and says that students need to feel connected with life and nature, not shut away in isolation. Happily, her academy's bright and airy rooms with outside facing windows, avoid this problem.

Heavy pressure and dramatic expectations are not part of this school's culture. Lessons are for any interest level, whether personal enjoyment or professional pursuits. Roesli says that recently a 60 year-old student enrolled, wanting to improve his skills for church. For students who exhibit great talent and ambition, there is a more intense pre-conservatory program geared to pursuing music degrees. Poklewski teaches master classes once or twice a month and sits in on trial and introductory classes. If an extraordinary talent emerges at the academy, she would take on their instruction. But the desire for most students is simply to gain knowledge of music and develop an ability to play with ease; a relaxed mind and body.

The academy operates year round, taking brief summer and winter breaks. "Kids learn by repetition," says Poklewski; too much time away leads to forgetting. Yearly exams take place around Thanksgiving, providing evaluation of progress and documentation of completed levels. Student performances are held every month to which the public is always invited. "We want to live with the community," says Poklewski, believing the interest and support of the community is of great benefit to students, and enriches their own lives as well.

The academy will be holding a faculty recital in their recital hall on Sunday, April 29 at 4 p.m. featuring piano, cello, and flute, which provides a wonderful opportunity to hear great music and see the level and standards to which the academy is run.

The Anna Poklewski Academy of Music exudes an inspiring combination of passion and professionalism with the noblest of goals. They hold true to their heart and echo the words of Katie Greenwood: "Music isn't just learning notes and playing them. You learn notes to play to the music of your soul."

For more information about the Anna Poklewski Academy of Music, call (510) 791-2726, or visit

Anna Poklewski Academy of Music
2 p.m.-7 p.m.
9 a.m.-6 p.m.
39660 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 791-2726

Faculty Recital
Sunday, April 29
4 p.m.

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