Private lessons: A step too far?

School News, The Arts

By Kalyani Srivastava

Zeke Dworak-Fisher, a sophomore violinist at Baltimore School for the Arts, wakes up at six on a Monday morning and rushes to make school attendance. He goes on to attend his fitness, chorus, music theory and Spanish classes, working his brain and his fingers until they sweat. 

After hours of rigorous practice, he locks away his violin and goes on to attend lunch–only to remember that on Mondays, his lunch is replaced by a private lesson. 

“Missing lunch is stressful for me because I don’t have a break throughout the day,” he says (between bites of a sandwich). Dworak-Fischer has to cooperate with his teachers every Monday to let him eat while learning in his academic classes.

BSA chooses to challenge their students: an extended school day stacked to the brim with 10 periods, half of which are monitored by tense, professional, high-expectant artists with abstract interpretations of a “job well-done.” The other half is academics squeezed into every slot of time for a well-rounded education. 

But what happens when you try and push it a little bit further? What happens when arts classes take up academics and time just to achieve that perfect sound?

On October 12th, the BSA music department program manager, Madison Lipsky, sent an email out to music department students, making a requirement for students to email her prior to every lunch they’ll need to miss for their assigned private lessons. 

If they forget to email, they won’t have permission to leave, which is monitored by cafeteria staff. 

Olivia Carter-Bergenstein, a sophomore vocalist, reposted the story of another student- Mae Guerrasio- publicly on her Instagram account about the regulation, deeming it unreasonable. “We shouldn’t have to go through all this mess to attend something mandatory,” says Carter-Bergenstein.

Music department private lessons have been integrated in BSA since the school opened in 1979. Its opening days, however, differ greatly from the current standard BSA schedule. 

Dr. Melassenah Edwards- head of the BSA music department- talks about her experience at the school as an ‘85 alum. While she expressed the importance of private lessons, she did mention the added academic requirements for students. 

“We used to have practice time”, Dr. Edwards says. “I feel like we had a little more freedom to move around.”

When word of this article’s topic spread, a multitude of students approached me with their eager testimonies. “I miss lunch, and I’m a big guy so I eat a lot,” says Sam Wylie, a junior percussionist. 

Wylie went on to elaborate on this inconvenience: “Last year it was really bad, because last year I missed a bunch of classes- I got marked absent for a bunch of classes. The only issue is that I don’t have lunch and I’m hungry as flip.”

Not all students, however, are completely against private lessons. Around 60 percent of students interviewed made it clear that despite the effects of private lessons on their learning and self-care, they greatly credit their lessons for where they stand musically. 

Izzy Mantel, a sophomore vocalist, expresses her mixed feelings: “I actually think that music lessons should take priority over my lunch, but I also think teachers should be more understanding because I’m not allowed to eat a granola bar in class.”

Another issue here is that, more often than not, lunch period private lessons tend to run over their given times, bleeding into students’ academic periods.

“It’s kind of a massive L on the record,” says Quinn Langkammerer, a sophomore vocalist. Quinn misses his combined chorus class, where there were individual hearings with feedback. 

Langkammerer tells me how grateful he is for private lessons but how he also misses out on new material: “I think it’s more just like a burden because I have to talk to other people instead of the man himself (Dr. Hardy, chorus director).”

BSA chooses to challenge its students. Some might say these are good training wheels for the rigorous life of a struggling artist. Others might argue that the piling stress and hunger is too much for growing teens. 

One thing that’s for certain is music students balance their classes graciously, under the weight of so many backpacks, binders, tubas and bases.

To contact this writer, email Muse Newspaper at