Rolled up in the Greensleeves, lay a foundation for music
● By J. Chambless
Ben Green began Greensleeves Music in 2007.
By Richard L. Gaw
It was 2006, and Ben
Green found himself in a bind.
Soon after graduating from West Chester University in 2001 with a degree in music education, Green began teaching music at Greenwood Elementary School in the Kennett Consolidated School District. For the next several years, he extended his teaching regimen by giving private lessons in percussion, guitar and piano, at homes throughout West Chester, Chadds Ford and beyond. When he wasn't visiting students at their homes, Green worked part-time at the Music Center in Exton.
“I would teach school until 4 p.m., and then go immediately to private lessons, and teach until 8 p.m. Most nights,” said Green, who lives with his wife, Leigh and their two small children in West Chester. “The lessons I was giving began to grow every year, and I took as many as I could possibly take from Monday through Friday.
“Eventually, I had reached the tipping point.”
By the end of 2006, Green developed an idea that by the beginning of 2007, became a company – Greensleeves Music, based in West Chester – that connects music teachers with students throughout southern Chester County, and beyond. He's at the center of an intricate system that pairs instructors with a wide demographic of new musicians, who are looking to sharpen their skills on a variety of instruments.
Green's first hire at Greensleeves Music was Curtis Smith, then a graduate student in music at West Chester University. Soon after, he hired a guitar instructor, and in the past several years, the roster has expanded, taken largely from the network Green has cultivated from teaching music and being a musician himself.
Today, Greensleeves Music has 30 instructors, who provide home instruction in a variety of instruments, including piano, guitar, voice, drums and all orchestra and band instrumentation, to over 200 students in the Kennett Square, Unionville, Chadds Ford and West Chester communities, with aspirations to expand north toward the Main Line vicinity. Most Greensleeves Music teachers are music education majors at West Chester University and music therapy majors at Immaculata University.
“I do everything I can to give the students – and their parents – the best possible options, but it first begins with logistics,” Green said. “When they contact me, I ask for available days, and the instrument they're looking to learn. If I know that the student is a beginner, for instance, I will have ten possible teachers for that student, and then pare it down according to what the student is looking to do.”
When Green interview potential teachers for Greensleeves Music, he doesn't just look at resumes, but for certain intangibles that tell more about who the person is, not what they have done.
“Some people try to imprint their method on students, but I look for people who look for different ways to connect with the student,” he said. “I look for teachers who can look a young person in the eye, who understands that education is about approaching it from the mind of a younger person, first.
“I remember some of my first teacher interviews. Two of the three candidates for a position were more experienced, but I chose the third candidate, because I knew in my gut that he knew he would be great with kids. It turned out he was. He became one of my most popular teachers for the two or three years he was with Greensleeves. I look for students who remember how a teacher inspired them when they were younger.”
Green may have been referring a bit to his own musical journey, which in many ways, began when he arrived in West Chester with his family when he was the eighth grade, having just moved from Waltham, Mass on Halloween weekend.
Until that point, the young Green was obsessed with sports, most particularly with basketball, and whose only musical training up to that point came in the fourth grade, when he took up the saxophone for three months before bailing on any thought of a musical life.
Green went from a happy-go-lucky youngster with a basketball and a Boston accent to a surly near-teenager who was forced to adjust to new surroundings, but soon after he moved into his new neighborhood, he met a boy about his age who had just started playing the guitar. To help kick off the new friendship, Green accompanied his on an inexpensive drum pad. The two began to rock out, playing cover after cover, and when Green received a full drum kit as a gift two months later, the duo invited other young musicians to join them – and a band called The Dark Reality, and later Guandonoland – was formed.
“It was all rock and roll, like Metallica and Nirvana,” Green said. “We all listened to nothing but hard rock, and the fact was, I was still pretty angry for having to move from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, so the music was perfect for what I was feeling at the time. It became a dream to be able to play these songs, because these songs meant so much to us.”
Later, when Green was a junior in high school, he began to take drum lessons from Dr. Chris Hanning, who later became Green's percussion instructor at West Chester University's School of Music, and where he now serves as dean.
In addition to teaching full-time in the Kennett school district, operating Greensleeves Music with Leigh, and occasionally playing in the West Chester music scene – Green has a monthly gig at Bar Avalon on Gay Street – he also helps pair musicians in his network with opportunities for special event performances, such as weddings and other forms of live entertainment.
“I was helping my brother Dan as a DJ, playing in bands and also playing at friend's weddings, and I began to see that there were so many connections I could make to link musicians to events, to the point where it could serve as another branch of the company,” Green said. “It grew out of the same paradigm that began Greensleeves, which is that if I couldn't be available, then I could connect other musicians to fill that need.
“It's gotten to the point where I have an interaction with a client, and they tell me what they want, the style of music they want, I can then pass that information along to the performing artist, whether it's a classical guitarist, a DJ, a band or a string quartet.”
Consider the positive impact that musical education has in the development of young people:
U.S. Department of Education data on more than 25,000 secondary school students found that students who report consistent high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show "significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12" (U.S. Department of Education NELLS88 Database).
Schools with music programs have an estimated 90.2 percent graduation rate and 93.9 percent attendance rate compared to schools without music education, which average 72.9 percent graduation and 84.9 percent attendance (The National Association for Music Education. “Music Makes the Grade.” The National Association for Music Education. Accessed February 24, 2015).
Nearly 100 percent of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology (for high school students) play one or more musical instruments. This led the Siemens Foundation to host a recital at Carnegie Hall in 2004, featuring some of these young people, after which a panel of experts debated the nature of the apparent science/music link (The Midland Chemist (American Chemical Society) Vol. 42, No.1, Feb. 2005).
Music education improves average SAT scores (Arts Education Partnership, 2011). *
“Even for a six year-old who plays piano who will never develops into a professional musician, they are still exercising their brain in a way that wouldn't normally be able to do,” Green said. “When someone asks me, 'Is it too early for my child to take lessons?' or 'Maybe I should stop lessons for my son, because he isn't making the progress I had hoped,' I answer with the fact that these children are spending time thinking and practicing, with a teacher who is helping them.”
It is those moments, Green said, when it's just the teacher introducing a student to keys or chords or notes on a page, that are the most powerful.
“Music has a way of reaching inside of the person playing it,” he added, “like the teenager who is connecting with like-minded people and keeping out of trouble. They've found a voice that they might have never found otherwise.
“In many ways, these students that we teach are like me. I moved here when I was 12, and I went from being obsessed with basketball to being the new kid with the funny Boston accent, who met his first new friend through music. Greensleeves gets to make those connections, and they mean so much to us.”
To learn more about Greensleeves Music, visit www.greensleeves-music.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Source: NAMM Foundation