Student of the Month


Practice for quality and not for quantity

– Varsha Swaminathan, Five-Year Violin Student from Shrewsbury

Meet Varsha

“Varsha has really excelled in violin thanks to Pakachoag’s strong violin program”, her mother Vidya praises. Varsha is only in the 8th grade but has been part of New England Conservatory’s pre-college orchestra for three years.  She was accepted by audition last year, 7th grade, into the Junior Central District Orchestra.

Dedication is only part of the recipe for Varsha’s success.  Mom notes, “With Pakachoag making the transition to remote learning so easy, that too has contributed to her on-going growth.  Pakachoag made sure that they worked with the teacher and family to make the transition easy. Madalyne Cross, Varsha’s teacher, is providing weekly zoom lessons with Varsha, and works with the students according to the devices that they have at home”.

“My teacher is helping by always telling me ways to play even better than I already am, such as adding in dynamics and different bow techniques” Varsha excitedly reports.    And from mom:  “We are so impressed with her talent and hard work, with her having performed at various venues thanks to Pakachoag’s group lesson program”.

Varsha studies violin with Madalyne Cross.

Varsha’s Inspiration?

Varsha is inspired by the young world-renowned Chloe Chua (age 11 from Singapore).    “She is really good at playing the violin and has performed in various places as well as won many big competitions.” Varsha adds, “My teacher also helps me prepare for auditions and competitions.” Mom shares Varsha’s dreams for success.  “One day I hope Varsha becomes a performing artist in violin and she continues to play throughout her life no matter what career or profession she chooses.”

At Pakachoag, we are happy to support Varsha’s dreams.  Setting goals and working hard is the way to do it, one step at a time.

Learn more about private lessons here.

Learn more about the Suzuki Program here.

Learn more about the Pakachoag Connect online program here.

Meet Connor, This Month’s Student Spotlight

Connor, Age 14, from Auburn
Two Year Piano Student of Debby Sedgwick

Connor Dion, our October Student Spotlight, is a freshman in high school who loves playing the piano. His biggest musical inspiration is Will Wood whom Connor feels “has an amazing talent and personality”.  Thanks to the Pakachoag Connect program, Connor is continuing to enjoy taking piano lessons remotely during the pandemic with his Pakachoag piano teacher Debby Sedgwick.

Connor’s mom feels that the school and his teacher have made it possible for Connor to pursue his passion and the transition to online lessons was very easy.   She has been able to observe Connor learning a couple of songs in a very short amount of time. His teacher Debby eases him during his online lessons while also not making it boring.

Connor is very proud of his performance this past summer 2020. He can continue to create such memorable performances this year too thanks to Pakachoag’s unique online performance programs. Pakachoag continues to think about student needs and strives to create a well rounded musical program for all its students during this pandemic.

Connor’s teacher, Debby Sedgwick, shares, “I always enjoy Connor’s  lessons.  He is a quick learner, eager to try out new pieces on his own.”

In the words of Connor, “Even when it’s hard or stressful, don’t give up. It goes a long way.”


Anyone, living anywhere, can learn to play online with Pakachoag Music School.

Brian Perry has been able to continue his private lessons this Fall of 2020 thanks to Pakachoag Music School’s quick adaptation to online lessons. Now in his retirement, Mr. Perry practices daily because he knows “learning to play the violin well takes time, in fact, a lifetime.”  Along with learning violin, Mr. Perry also volunteers his time serving as a board member for the Music School.

Mr. Perry is inspired by American Folk Violinist Hanneke Cassel, telling us that he “wants to play like [her].”  We are inspired by Mr. Perry’s dedication to his music and his community, as he strives “to play Irish and Scottish Fiddle Music well enough for people to dance to my tunes.” Reminiscing on playing live in our recitals, Mr. Perry says the applause and encouragement are “the proudest, happiest feeling.”

We have a diverse student body at Pakachoag Music School, and we are grateful that Mr. Perry brings his unique background to our music community.  Now that we are offering remote lessons, Mr. Perry excitedly says “anyone, living anywhere, can learn to play on-line with Pakachoag Music School.”

One final piece of advice from Mr. Perry: “I suggest adults who are approaching retirement age or are already retired ask yourself ‘what can I do for one hour every day that is fun and stimulating?’  It’s music! There are so many cognitive, social, and personal benefits of playing a musical instrument I can’t describe them all here.”

“The Songs Get Stuck in My Head!”

Maya is 9 years old and from Shrewsbury.  Maya first came to Pakachoag in 2012 as a summer early childhood / music and movement student.  In 2014, Maya began violin lessons with Dr. Leah Zelnick.  Maya currently studies with Laurie Knorr.

Sarah, Pakachoag ED, recently asked Maya a few questions by e-mail.

Why do you like playing the violin? I like playing the violin because some of my family members play the violin and I really admire their talent. My parents suggested to try it myself and play with them someday. I said yes. I tried it out and I loved it! The number one reason I love playing the violin is because it is so much fun and the songs always get stuck in my head!

What do you like the most about being a Pakachoag student? What I like the most about being a Pakachoag student is all of the people around me. Along the way, I’ve been in the same group class with many new faces (at the start) that are now some of my best friends. We’ve been able to hang out in our free time and our families too.

What do you think you would like to do when you grow up? When I grow up, I would like to go on tour like Lindsey Stirling. She is a phenomenal violinist and I would like to be like her someday.

Do you have any advice you would give to a new music student? My advice that I would give to a new music student would be “just be yourself.” I think this because I want to be a violinist like Lindsey, but not exactly like her. I just want to go on tour and share my talent like her. And also, if you mess up one note, it’s not the end of the world! You can just go back and fix the error you made and continue with the song. Don’t think that you don’t have talent at all and you shouldn’t share it. I’ve felt that way many times.

Maya in a recent performance alongside some of the friends she has made as part of the School’s Suzuki Violin Program.

Thank you for choosing me as a featured student! I couldn’t ask for anything more!

-Maya Elizabeth Pascoal

Dear Maya, We love knowing that you love to play the violin.  We love reading that you have learned some important lessons along the way like “if you mess up one note, it’s not the end of the world.”  Thank you for participating in our Featured Student community engagement project.    Keep up the good work!

Sincerely, Sarah S. and the Pakachoag faculty

Adult Guitar Student from Dudley

Maria first came to Pakachoag in 2011 while in High School to take clarinet lessons. We were very happy that Maria stayed with us through the end of High School…. AND…then, Maria came back!

Following graduation from Anna Maria College in Paxton, Maria has returned to take guitar lessons each week with Jeff Dostal.   In addition to her music pursuits, Maria is also pursuing additional studies in library science.

Maria reflects…

I continue to take lessons at Pakachoag because I want to nurture my passion for music in the supportive environment that I grew up in. Through my studies at college, I’ve found that taking music lessons at Pakachoag gave me something else to focus on besides all the school work and helps relax me after a long day of studying.

What I like most about my Pakachoag teacher, Jeff is his openness to just go with the flow and helping me pick what material I want to study as it aligns with my interests. There was one moment at Pakachoag that stood out to me, last year, when I performed in the guitar recital, I ended up sounding the last chord to the song perfectly and letting it ring out. In that moment, I felt alive with the music, and a momentary sense of peace.

Amazing how music can do that!  Alive with music, but peaceful and so much  more.  We’re really happy Maria is back at Pakachoag!  May all your music-making and enjoyment continue, for life.

Eva Today: May 2018 recital (All Saints Church Sanctuary)

From Eva, age 10, of Boylston, this month’s featured student:

At Pakachoag Music School I have made lots of friends that also play violin.  I get to play music with them in Suzuki Group Class and other Suzuki activities like the Halloween Party.  In my private lessons, Amy Matherly helps me with different things.  I enjoy learning all the new techniques she teaches me.  My favorite thing I’ve learned this year is Violin Concerto No. 5, 1st movement by Seitz.

Eva, four years ago, year 2 of violin lessons.

A Note from Mrs. Smongeski:  We are delighted to have Eva as part of our school community.  When looking at all the photos we had on file, I found many of Eva with her music friends.   Before starting violin lessons, Eva was part of our Music Together program (since 2010, around the age of two!) and she has even spent summer time with us as part of our musical theater program.  We appreciate that Eva helps other students feel at home as part of our Pakachoag family.  We appreciate that Eva works so hard to play her violin nicely and that she shares her music with us during student recitals and sometimes as part of outreach concerts.  Thanks Eva, for participating as a featured student!


Jenna LeDuc is 12 years old, from Shrewsbury.  We’re enjoying watching Jenna grow, to date over a span of five years, both musically and as a dedicated student.  Jenna shares:

I have been playing the piano for 5 years, at Pakachoag music school using the suzuki method of learning. Pakachoag is a really lovely school,with some wonderful and encouraging instructors. I have been with my instructor, Mrs. Leah Zelnick, for all of my time here. She is kind, patient and I very much like her style of teaching. I enjoy the challenging suzuki method,even though it pushes you but is not discouraging, it’s a good balance. Being challenged is one of the things I like about it. You also get to play amazing pieces by famous composers like:  Clementi, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and more! I have developed a good ear for music and am able to memorize pieces quickly. Currently I am trying to quicken my sight reading skills to the level that I can play. Being here, I have developed endurance, ever learning, ever growing, and this music is a part of me.

~Jenna LeDuc

Dear Jenna, We love that you think your music pieces are “amazing”.  We would agree.  There is nothing like a good dose of Bach or Mozart (and all those other great composers) to make every day special.  Your goal to quicken your sight reading skills is a really good goal!  I think we must both thank Leah, your teacher, for her very good teaching; and you, for your dedication, seriousness of purpose, and… what else…. practice 🙂  We look forward to hearing more of your music in the coming months.

Voice and piano student Rhiannon Mansur, age 13, studies with faculty member Jannatha Coffin. Rhiannon is from Charlton.  This is her third year of lessons at Pakachoag.

Rhiannon tells us:

What I like most about lessons is that I can focus on music and practice with someone telling me what I’m doing right or wrong.  The hardest part of music is memorizing my songs and practicing every night.  In the future, I want to be a singer and composer.  I want to make songs for games, and to make people happy with my music.  I feel the more I improve, the better chance I have to be a better composer for the years to come.  I hope one day I can touch people with my music.”

Dear Rhiannon, thanks for being our most recent featured student.  Did you know:  You already touch people with your music?  and you make us happy… with your music!  Thanks for singing for us and with us – and playing piano too.  Keep singing!  and working hard.  Sincerely, Sarah S. (Director)

Diana, age 11, is a voice student of Silvia Irving.  She also takes piano lessons with Debby Sedgwick.     Diana, who you can hear sing with the video link below, has been enrolled at Pakachoag since 2013 for private lessons; and actually has a connection with us dating back to 2010 ! when she participated in our early childhood Music Together program at around age four.

Diana writes:

I love music because it can show how you feel without having to say a word.  I love my lessons, and its fun to perform in front of an audience.  For me, music makes the world a better place.”

Here, Diana sings for a student outreach concert as part of First Night Worcester 2016.

Diana’s working hard and this year she participated in a fall recital and then again as part of our First Night Outreach Concert singing “I Know Things Now” from Into The Woods.

Thank you to Diana’s piano teacher and faculty member Debby Sedgwick who accompanied Diana for this performance.

Thanks also to Warner Chappell Music of Los Angeles, CA, owner of the synchronization rights for this song, who has granted permission to post and share.

pak111514-aw3_0543_optKamden is 11 years old.  He lives in Shrewsbury.  Kamden, a student of Amy Matherly, has been taking lessons since September 2012.  (That means… Kamden will receive his Five-Years-Of-Lessons milestone certificate in May 2017!)

Kamden recently played in our November student recital.  His Video is posted below.  Nice job, says Mrs. Smongeski!

Kamden offers some wise words to others who are learning to play an instrument (or sing):

What I like about the Pakachoag music school is that it feels like a big music family. Teachers and fellow students are always encouraging each other to do better and stretch each other to their musical limits.

Practicing can be difficult, but if you take the extra time and effort to power through you will not regret the results. Some people have a hard time practicing consistently but personally I find that once I start, I want to keep on playing.

The Suzuki method works well because it is like a ladder, you learn one step at a time. Each song is preparing you for the next song and many more to come.

  • 1
  • 2