Where Nobody Skips School

Where Nobody Skips School

From musical instruments to Musical Theater, School of the Arts classes teach students to experiment and explore. Check out the just added Move with Me Class info at the end of this article.

Fall Classes for School of the Arts start September 12. Sign up today.

BY DANA S. EAGLES for artsLife magazine. To read the entire Fall 2016 edition click here.

Nathan May’s parents were accomplished cellists and teachers. So, May says, when he was a child, the main topic around the dinner table was music. May, who started playing the upright bass at 10, branched out into other stringed instruments, learning everything he could from an extended musical family, including a film-composer uncle.

Although he’s just 22, May is already helping others discover how music can shape their lives for the better. He teaches strings and guitar at Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of the Arts. And he’ll be there this fall as the school offers another semester of group classes encompassing just about every aspect of music, dance and theater.

May studied strings with teachers in Orlando and Pittsburgh, and his family runs the Metropolitan Area Youth Symphony in Orlando. It’s designed to continue the teaching traditions of his late father, Jonathan May, who founded and led several youth orchestras during his lifetime.

Just don’t expect May to deliver stereotypical music lessons in which an experienced player nags students about everything they’re doing wrong. That kind of teaching is based on “no,” says May, who also teaches privately and plays electric bass and guitar in a handful of rock, funk and reggae groups. “I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to help. I think music education should be about saying ‘yes.’”

More students have been saying yes to the arts center’s school, which opened in January 2015 with 170 students and enrolled 203 this past spring. Fall classes start September 12, though Dana Brazil, the arts center’s director of education, advises students to enroll no later than September 2 by visiting or by calling 407.455.5551.

The school, which also offers intensive one-week summer camps in the arts, is open to all ages, “from 3 through 103,” in keeping with the arts center’s Arts For Every Life vision.

The 49 weekly classes scheduled for fall will continue through December 17 in five studios, with a one-week Thanksgiving break. Tuition varies by class (see accompanying schedule), and monthly payment plans are available. Students taking instrumental classes must have their own instruments.

As the school grows and its initial students return for more training, it’s offering more advanced classes. There’s now Advanced Musical Theater Performance, for example, which focuses not just on stage techniques but also on the business acumen required for a musical theater career.

And there’s a broader array of classes in the Yamaha Music Education System, which takes a holistic approach to musical training that combines basic keyboard skills, rhythm and notation, music appreciation — and lots of fun.

Brazil says the arts center has seen growing enthusiasm for classes that help students become a “triple threat” in musical theater through dance, voice and acting. Those who train in these related disciplines gain new perspectives from a variety of teachers and the dynamics of different groups, Brazil notes.

Another popular course is Rock Band, which was first offered last fall and is on the schedule again. How do you teach a style of music that's usually learned on the fly in the garages and basements of understanding parents?

The emphasis is on collaboration, Brazil says. Students must be proficient in an instrument, and they improve their own skills as they learn to work together. “You have to make room in your playing for someone else to be heard,” she adds. Brazil expects 22 instructors this fall, all of them selected for teaching ability in addition to artistic accomplishment. “Just because you’re a good performer doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher,” she says.

By all accounts, Nathan May is both, and his approach exemplifies the school’s stated goal of providing a place where students can “explore, create, experiment, persevere and take risks without fear of failing.” May says he subscribes to “a philosophy of string playing that teaches ergonomic ways to use our body weight and gravity to access the most out of our playing.” He's noticed that some of today’s young overachievers are too tense to do their best playing, or to find the joy in music. So his job is often to simply help them relax before working on technique and musicality.

“At the end of the day, we want students to be lovers of music,” he says. “It’s not something scary; it’s not all about competition.”


Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of the Arts is offering free trial classes for parents of young children on August 29, 2016. This free class is a trial for those interested in signing up for the Move with Me class beginning September 12. The class is appropriate for all carrier-age children, from birth to toddler. Nursing mothers and siblings are welcome.

Move with Me is a new addition to the fall semester of performing arts classes already available through the School of the Arts. The free trial classes are Monday, August 29, 2016 at 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m. & 11:30 a.m. Students are asked to register for the free trial by calling the School of the Arts at 407.455.5551.

Two sessions of the class will be available during the fall semester on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. starting September 12 through October 17 with the second session October 31 – December 12 with a break for Thanksgiving. Sign up at or by calling 407.455.5551.

Move with Me is a movement class for adults with young ones in wearable carriers. Move with Me provides early exposure to music, movement and dance. “This class is geared towards creating an environment for community interaction, and devotes equal focus to the parent/caretaker, the child and the bond between them,” said teacher Crystal Edwards.

Edwards holds a BFA in dance and a minor in mass communications from the University of Florida, where she gained invaluable training and a love for using the arts to push boundaries and challenge people. She has danced professionally for Black Label Movement, Moving Current Dance Collective and toured nationally and internationally with Diavolo Dance Theater based in Los Angeles, CA. She has been a teaching artist at Hamline University, Winona State University, and College of Saint Benedict and her choreography has been recognized at ACDFA Nationals in Washington D.C. Currently, Edwards is the managing director and dancer in Minneapolis based Black Label Movement. Locally, she works with Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts (Outreach Teaching Artist/School of Arts Teacher), Mad Cow Theatre (Manager of Creative Development), and Florida Dance Association (Communications Coordinator).