Play a new instrument, Listen to music you have never heard, Learn how to read music, and Create a musical composition—all in an hour of fun.
After just 5 hours of lessons with Jennifer Bernard, you can create a song, play with 4 different instruments, learn ten new music genres, understand how to read music and improvise your own melody—or better yet build your own “Music ‘Prozac’ CD” for those times you want to feel happy, relax, or express yourself.
“Jennifer makes learning easy and fun. I was hesitant, not knowing what I might be getting myself into. ‘Music exploration?’ Really what is that? I wasn’t sure I could really learn something new with my impaired Executive Functions (such as impaired new learning, memory, and difficulty finding and saying words, as well as remembering instructions). Jennifer was so eager to teach and passionate about music, my first lesson wasn’t intimidating, rather exciting. With clear tasks for homework to keep me engaged without feeling overwhelmed and Jennifer’s positive encouragement, I looked forward to our one hour a week lessons—knowing I’d learn something interesting and have a positive time. Rehabilitation was sometimes hard and frustrating, but knowing I had a music lesson with Jennifer, made it easier to get up and get motivated, even when I felt pain,” said Tamika Smith, Jennifer’s first Small Victories’ student.
Jennifer plays one of the hardest instruments to learn, the oboe, which she has been playing for 23 years, since she was eleven years old. Jennifer says she “really [enjoys] working with adults, expanding their musical horizons, and showing people that they can have fun with music and use it to relieve stress. Music brings me a lot of joy.”
Music Exploration is a time to explore different instruments, types of music, and new ways to express your emotions through the creation of music. “Jennifer is so prepared to help and work at your own pace, in the areas you find most interesting. I can’t wait to start playing piano and learning piano improvisation – all because she turned me onto music and encouraged me to keep trying and learning!” offered Tamika.
A professional oboist and teacher, Jennifer loves helping people realize they have a part in music regardless of their experience. Besides playing the oboe at 11, she also explored piano and singing in the choir. “I heard that the oboe and the French horn were the two hardest instruments to play, and since my sister was already playing the French horn, I, of course, chose the oboe!”
That desire to achieve excellence and have fun with music —combined with her fascination with how the brain learns, makes her a perfect fit with Small Victories. One of Jennifer’s students is the daughter of Small Victories founders Derrick and Cindy Wright. “I’ve worked with Hannah for six years. We’ve had many conversations about music, learning and the brain – because of that connection and my interest in the psychology of learning, I began working with Small Victories.”
While discussing her music career, Jennifer describes her path to success. “There was definitely a turning point when I moved to Austin for graduate school. While working on my masters in music, I began picking up gigs around Texas and by the time I graduated, I had enough gigs to make a living doing what I’m most passionate about.” It’s fascinating to teach music to adults – whether a formal class or through private lessons, according to Jennifer. She currently has 15 oboe students and one music exploration and piano student. It’s a wonder she has room to actually play music, but Jennifer is at the top of her game. She is a member of the Victoria Symphony, Corpus Christi Symphony, Round Rock Symphony, and Laredo Philharmonic, and is a substitute musician for the Austin Symphony, Austin Opera, and Mid-Texas Symphony. She comments, “it’s amazing to have a bunch of different puzzle pieces that create a whole picture.”
That statement sums-up the essence of Jennifer as a musician and teacher. She’s buzzing with excitement and the joy of music; she’s dedicated and strives to excel; and mostly, she’s just a joy to be around as she brings all these different ideas together into a picture perfect musical piece.
Jennifer has a sincere interest in working with Small Victories students and hearing their stories, learning about their psychological struggles, and being a part of their creative successes. “I see myself in my students. I have left a session with a Small Victories student thinking I should take my own advice – not just learn a new piece of music but enjoy the journey; stop and smell the flowers along with way; be more compassionate with myself since making mistakes is a part of the learning process.” One student was off to the races, practicing daily, learning one new piano song after another – but Jennifer noticed how hard her student was on herself. Together she and her student creatively thought of a new ways of learning – learning for fun and their own enjoyment versus rushing to get a piece of music completed to “perfection.”
“It is important to realize that I, as the teacher, am processing the whole experience with my student. I’m reminded of when I started learning music when I was a young girl, it was the anticipation to learn, the fun of hearing and doing something new and special. There is so much joy in music for me and I wanted people to experience that fun and joyful exploration,” said Jennifer. In a typical music classroom, there is a hierarchy about learning –that desire for innate ‘talent’. Whereas, Jennifer believes having fun with music builds a better learning environment and connection between the teacher and student.”
Jennifer came up with the idea of Play, Listen, Learn, Create as a way of organizing a big “pile of music mess!” She asked herself how she would be able to teach all these disparate things, but still have structure that felt fun and comfortable. As one student mentioned, “it was a wonderful way to try a lot of new musical ideas/concepts, and still feel like I was enjoying the process. No lesson was the same, and I got a little bit of a lot of different musical experiences.”
Jennifer is drawn to the idea of showing people there is a place in music that they can own for themselves. She said one of her most valuable personal challenges is to create a safe place where people can be joyful about something. To achieve this, “I need a large dose of compassion for myself and others. This compassion builds a space where mistakes are okay and you aren’t judged. We need to learn from our mistakes without shame – connecting with compassion over our shared humanity.”
Small Victories is about finding your creative self, and sharing a safe space, being surrounded by compassionate people, and finding your new normal – these concepts are the cornerstone of Jennifer Bernard’s teaching and musical philosophies. So make time to play something new, learn something interesting, listen to beautiful music, and create a new path for your own creativity by exploring music with Jennifer Bernard and Small Victories.
SVF is pleased to feature the very talented writer Tamika Smith. Tamika is a former Vice President of Communications/Marketing and a current TBI survivor and piano student searching for her new “normal” post-therapy.