Students overcome disabilities with music teacher's help

Oct. 11, 2010 at 5:11 a.m.

Enny Velasquez shows the proper finger positions on the guitar fretboard to her 4-year-old student, Emmy Dugi, during class at Velasquez's home in Victoria on Thursday, Oct. 7.

Enny Velasquez shows the proper finger positions on the guitar fretboard to her 4-year-old student, Emmy Dugi, during class at Velasquez's home in Victoria on Thursday, Oct. 7.

Every Monday at 4 p.m., Victoria residents Enny Velasquez and Katie Pratt can be found tickling the ivories on Velasquez's piano.

For the last two years, Velasquez, 46, has given private 30-minute piano, vocal and guitar lessons to 7-year-old Katie.

During that time, Katie has learned to distinguish notes by pitch and play a variety of songs, both of which are tremendous feats considering Katie is legally blind and suffers from developmental problems.

"We know that (Velasquez) is making a big impact on her future," Kathy Pratt said about her daughter's significant developmental improvements since beginning lessons with Velasquez. "We're just very thankful we found Enny."

Katie is just one of many students, both with and without special needs, who have attended Enny's Music School since its inception 20 years ago.

Currently, Velasquez gives piano, cello, violin, guitar and voice lessons to 75 students, who range from ages from 3 to 74, Sunday through Friday in her living room, which doubles as her music room.

"I always knew I would be a teacher, but not for a regular school. It would be for something I liked," said Velasquez. "It's enjoyable to see the parents and children happy when their child is able to play their very first song."

Velasquez said she has always had an affinity toward music.

A native of Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico, Velasquez began studying piano and music theory at an early age.

She received a bachelor's degree in music education from the University of Montemorelos.

After getting married, Velasquez and her husband eventually settled in Victoria.

Because she was not yet a U.S. citizen and her English was not very good, Velasquez said she began teaching informal music lessons to children at her church rather than trying to teach music classes at one of the local schools.

She soon decided to open her door to all Victoria residents, hoping to fill the void of a lack of private music teachers in the area.

Over the years, Velasquez has perfected her craft, maneuvering through the highs and lows of teaching music primarily to children.

"It's difficult when I have students who don't want to be here, but their parents are making them be here," she said.

From Velasquez's experience, a lack of desire to play often translates into a lack of practice and a lack of improvement.

For children to successfully master an instrument, it must involve an effort on not only the child's part, but also the parents, said Velasquez.

"We're working together - here in class and at home," she said. "I tell parents they have to keep up the same level of motivation at home like I do in class."

Being encouraging can also play a large part in whether a child learns to play an instrument.

Velasquez's children, all of whom are musically inclined, are living proof of that.

"My Mom always tells me I'm a fast learner and I believe her," said Velasquez's 9-year-old, Mariana.

The Dudley Elementary fourth-grader has been playing violin, guitar and piano for years and has worked her way up from beginning musical classics to Mozart's advanced Turkish March.

Velasquez said she started getting approached by parents of special needs children a few years back after parents learned she used the Suzuki music education method, which heavily focuses on repetition.

Although she admitted she was a little apprehensive in the beginning, Velasquez, who does not have a degree in music therapy, said she enjoys teaching students with special needs, who often require more energy and hands-on help at times.

"I started teaching and noticed they improved, just like the other children," she said. "I teach them the same as I teach the other children."

Kathy Pratt, 44, said she and her husband decided to enroll Katie in Enny's music school after Katie's neurologist suggested it might help in her development.

"Katie can find notes by ear and to me, that was a big impact to see that advancement," said Velasquez.

Victoria resident Genny Torres also felt Velasquez's lessons have done wonders for her daughters, 14-year-old Kimberly and 11-year-old Caroline, both of whom are deaf and wear cochlear implants.

"They love it. They practice everyday," said Torres. "Before, they didn't know when the music would start, but they have been improving little by little."

Kimberly Torres shared her experience working with Velasquez and the difficulties that came with learning to play the violin and piano.

"The first time it was a little hard. I never played music before and it was really difficult," said Kimberly, an eight-grader at Cade Middle School. "I plan on improving in the future."

Velasquez said her teaching methods include both hands-on training and musical props such as a larger than life piano and DVD that plays along with students.

Taking music lessons can also be beneficial to other areas of students' lives as well, said Velasquez.

"They gain concentration because they are memorizing music," she said. "It helps them with memorizing things in school, too."

Within the next year, Velasquez said, she wants to partner with other local private music teachers to build a school of music that would be accessible to students of all financial means.

"If they are unable to pay, then we can try to find scholarships for them or offer group classes to reduce the cost," said Velasquez. "My purpose is to involve more children in music.



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