Lenna Darbin Andrews, teacher and director, says music is 'serious fun'
The director of the Hudson Valley Music Academy and of Chester Academy plays makes sure breakthroughs aren't a 'one-time thing'
Lenna Darbin Andrews
By Ginny Privitar
GOSHEN — Lenna Darbin Andrews is known to the local school community for her direction of several successful plays for the Chester Academy. A musician and opera singer, Andrews also directs the Hudson Valley Music Academy in Goshen, which has produced many outstanding students.
She's now directing "The Wizard of Oz" for a performance at the Chester Academy in April.
Andrews grew up in northern Indiana, near Chicago. She has studied piano and cello since age four and took up voice in high school. While still in middle school, she became an opera "super fan," after seeing her first at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House.
She attended the world-famous Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. There she participated in 14 operas before graduating with a degree in performance. The Dallas Opera hired her directly out of college, and she sang there for five years. She and her husband, Alan, then moved to New York so she could pursue her career. Her professional name is Lenna Darbin.
She sang in New York for many years. Then the couple started a family, and her priorities shifted toward her children and teaching. Andrews had extensive teaching experience in private and prep schools in the city and also gave private lessons before starting her own school, the Hudson Valley Music Academy, in 2003.
She continued to sing professionally, at Taconic Opera, the premier regional opera company in Westchester, at Hudson Opera Theater in Orange County, and in Connecticut. She is a mezzo-soprano with 27 roles on her resume. Her favorite role is Suzuki, the servant maid in "Madame Butterfly."
"The audience watches Suzuki to know what’s going on," Andrews said. "It’s a powerful role, even though she’s just a servant."
'My way of life'These days, teaching takes up all her time.
"It’s what I know, and I found out I’m very good at it and had a good rapport with children since day one. It grew into my way of life," she said.
Learning music is a gradual process, Andrews said.
"And then the students grasp it when they have their breakthrough, and it’s up to me to make sure that wasn’t a one-time thing," she said.
She is adamant about protecting the health of voices. The singers Adele, Idina Menzel, and Sam Smith have been diagnosed with serious vocal problems from not resting their voices, she said. Rest, hydration, and learning to pace yourself are important.
"The voice is a biological instrument, and it needs to be protected,” said Andrews.
The most publicly successful of her students is Chester Academy student Jonathan Walters-Suber, who won an amateur night event singing at the Apollo Theater. Other students have been admitted to prestigious programs at New York University Tish School of the Arts, SUNY Binghamton, and SUNY Purchase. One student won a full vocal scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
'More than just music'Why is music important?
"It opens up both hemispheres of the brain," she said. "It allows the brain to communicate with itself better and oftentimes music students do better in school. "It’s more than just music — it’s educating the whole child."
The school has six teachers and employs traditional music education. Students learn to read music and rudiments of the instruments. Lessons are available in voice, piano, guitar, drums, cello, as well as electric guitar and drums. Musical styles range from pop to classical and everything in between, and students range from age four to 78.
After lessons Andrews makes sure parents know what the student was working on and what they’re responsible for learning. There are two recitals a year. The most recent took place on Jan. 13 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Middletown, where Andrews is also the music director.
The school attracts and retains good teachers.
"I pay one of the highest salaries in Orange County and treat them with respect," She said. "The teachers are the school. We’re more like a family; not so commercial. We’re definitely about quality.
"We’re serious, but we have a lot of fun," she said.
The school offers a free introductory lesson and no registration fee for new students in piano, voice, guitar, and drums.
Hudson Valley Music Academy is located at 2002 Route 17M in Goshen, and may be reached at 845-248-0566.