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Music Grad Starts San Diego’s First Community Music Center            

By Dirk Sutro | August 14, 2006

Fiona Chatwin
Fiona Chatwin orchestrates
the Villa Musica summer camp.

Fiona Chatwin completed a doctoral degree in music at UCSD in June and has already started her own music school. In July, Chatwin’s Villa Musica hosted a five-day pilot music camp at UCSD attended by 16 aspiring vocalists ages 11 to 18.

Villa Musica’s students included four low-income scholarship recipients, among them students from UCSD’s Preuss School. Other students came from La Jolla Country Day, Canyon Crest Academy and the Bishop’s School.

California is home to at least 13 community music schools, but none of these has been located in San Diego until now.

Chatwin, who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, believes in a holistic approach that exercises more than just voices.

“Each morning began with a yoga session, which helps their bodies and voices align,” Chatwin said. “Then we met for ensemble class. We worked on four pieces as a group, including ‘Seasons of Love’ from the musical ‘Rent.’”

Rey Ayon and Latifah Smith
Rey Ayon (left) and Latifah Smith, students and choir members at the Preuss School at UCSD, were awarded scholarships to attend the Villa Musica summer camp for singers ages 11 to 18.

Students also received private lessons from Villa Musica instructors, including Chatwin. In the afternoon, they heard guest lecturers such as Kellie Evans-O’Connor, director of the Opera Theater program at San Diego State University, and Ines Irawati, winner of La Jolla Symphony & Chorus’s Young Artists Competition last year.

The summer session ended with a showcase concert where students had a chance to demonstrate their progress.

Chatwin’s motivation for founding Villa Musica came from her own experiences as a young musician and from shortcomings in music programs at many San Diego schools.

“When I was starting out, I wasn’t a natural, and I had a lot of experiences with bad teachers who weren’t supportive,” she said. “A lot of high schools today have a choir and maybe a band, but there are completely amazing music students who don’t realize their potential because the schools only have one music teacher for 60 students.”

Villa Musica’s mission statement emphasizes collaboration and ensemble opportunities in many genres, ranging from music theater to jazz and edgy contemporary music. While vocal training is a focus, students will also have an opportunity to study instruments such as guitar and piano.

This fall, Villa Musica will launch several community-based ensembles including a community choir directed by Chatwin, as well as a guitar ensemble and flute choir. Weekend workshops for guitarists and vocalists will be added in early 2007.

Villa Musica Villa Musica Villa Musica
Villa Musica students attend courses for choir and ensemble with close attention from the instructors.

And on October 7, Villla Musica hosts a master class with leading mezzo-soprano opera singer Dolora Zajick.

As with all fledgling arts programs, Villa Musica also needs start-up funding. “In San Diego, in order to get government or state funding,” Chatwin said, “you need to be running for three years. Right now we’re looking for a major benefactor to help us launch Villa Musica.”

Over the next few months – explained cofounder Ruth Kiefer of CONNECT –Villa Musica will launch programs at various locations throughout the city, including Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church and University Lutheran Church.

Long-term, Kiefer said, Villa Musica hopes to find a permanent location and is considering NTC Promenade, at the redeveloping Naval Training Center in Point Loma, as an option.

You’ll find more information on Villa Musica at the school’s Web site:

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