“Academy” Rewards: Palisadian Expands on Music School Mandate

Palisadian-Post, February 05, 2009

When the state makes cuts in education, usually the first class on the chopping block is music. But Palisadian Margaret Lysy is doing quite the opposite. Lysy is the founding president and CEO of SOL-LA Music Academy, a new youth program of music instruction taking place on the Westside.

Under the credo ‘Music Builds Humanity,’ SOL-LA, Lysy, 43, tells the Palisadian-Post, arrives at a time when the economy is not only sapping education budgets, but is also creating stress on households. More than ever, the performing arts can become a vital outlet to a child or teen’s emotional health and budding self-esteem.

The music academy instructs youth 3 months to 18 years. With 15 to 20 instructors conducting such classes as ‘SOL-LA Youth Tango/ Jazz Ensemble Middle & High School,’ ‘FUNdamentals of Music and Movement’ (for early childhood), and ‘Language of Music,’ SOL-LA offers courses on Saturdays, after school on Mondays, and after school on Thursdays.

Originally housed last year at Colburn School of Performing Arts downtown, SOL-LA’s curriculum is currently based at Little Dolphins By The Sea Preschool in Santa Monica.

‘This is the first year at Little Dolphins, we’re branching out and the program’s growing. We’re trying to bring it into the 21st century,’ Lysy says, noting that SOL-LA offers instruction in the Garage Band program on Mac computers.

But it’s not just about providing state-of-the-art technology.

‘It’s also the type of teachers we’re getting,’ Lysy says. ‘The best of the best. I’m building the curriculum around the teachers.’

One of those teachers is Aaron Nigel Smith of Seven Arrows Elementary.

‘He teaches our choral program,’ Lysy says. ‘They sing African music, they sing German music. A lot of drumming and rhythm.’

Other participating Palisadians include the academy’s Web site designers, Patricia Kovic and her husband, Jeff Morris, and Dr. Victoria Stevens, daughter of local pianist Dolores Stevens, who is on SOL-LA’s faculty.

Margaret Lysy knows the importance of music in a younger person’s life firsthand from her childhood in Northern Ireland.

‘When I was growing up in Belfast, I was one of 11 children, and Ireland was experiencing the height of the Troubles,’ she says, alluding to the waves of I.R.A. bombings spanning the late 1960s through the late 1990s. ‘We did not go out that much.’

As a result, Lysy’s parents enrolled her in a music academy, where she studied oral theory, chamber music, violins, piano lessons.

‘Part of what Ireland is about is that, over there, they feel very strongly about culture and the arts,’ Lysy says. ‘Music was the language that both sides [of Ireland’s religion-based political conflict] could talk.’

Lysy eventually moved to England, where she realized that the music education, while very good, was not of the caliber that she enjoyed in Ireland.

Lysy moved to Montreal, where she studied at McGill University. What brought her to California five years ago was when she and her husband, Antonio Lysy, accepted positions in UCLA’s music department, where she is a professor of music education, and her husband heads the strings department. Her husband, incidentally, runs ‘In Contri in Terra di Siena,’ an annual music festival in Italy.

Education was very much on their mind when they bought their Marquez Knolls home, as they were attracted to area schools. The couple have three children: Sofia, 19, who just graduated from PaliHi, plays piano, and is interested in the fine arts; Clara, 15, who went to Marquez Elementary and St. Matthew’s and plays violin; and Aidan, 9, who also attended Marquez, plays piano and violin, and sings in chorus.

When not teaching on the college level, Lsys can be found at SOL-LA, where she enjoys a hands-on role teaching the ‘Beginner Violin’ and the ‘Do-Re-Mi-Fa-SOL-LA String’ classes to young people.

‘What I teach at UCLA is pedagogy, so I need the experience of teaching young children,’ Lysy says. ‘It’s very pertinent to what I’m doing at UCLA.’

-Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

SOL-LA Music Academy admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.