Milford's newest resident has lofty goals to enrich the vibrant arts scene in town, particularly in the area of music.

Milford’s newest resident has lofty goals to enrich the vibrant arts scene in town, particularly in the area of music.

After a year of teaching Suzuki violin/viola courses at the Music School of Delaware’s Wilmington branch, Katie Inie-Richards has recently been promoted to music director of the school’s Milford branch and its satellite locations in Felton, Dover and Lewes.

A native of Pennsylvania, Inie-Richards holds a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree in music in Suzuki pedagogy from Ithaca College. Suzuki is a musical-instruction method developed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki based around having young children listen to music first and then perform it, as opposed to the traditional method of having children learn music by first reading sheet music.

The Milford Beacon recently caught up with Inie-Richards to discover why she feels she’s a good fit as music director, what her goals are in her new role and how she’ll execute them.

Q What led you to playing the viola and violin?

A I went to a Waldorf school growing up, and it’s kind of an alternative learning [experience]. They really center on the whole being of the child, so there’s lots of arts involved: there’s music lessons, painting, woodworking. In third grade, everyone in the class was given an opportunity to play a string instrument. I picked viola because when I was little. I eventually picked up the violin, but the viola was my first choice.

Q As the new music director, what’s your vision for the school’s Milford branch and its satellite locations?

A The first word that comes to mind is growth ─ growing the student body so that it becomes a vibrant music school, because in Wilmington they have, probably, 700 people who signed up for music lessons. And in Milford there’s 100. It’s not that, that number is negative, but because Milford is so supported by the arts, there is still room to grow. My big goal right now is to get these classes off the ground for early childhood because in order to grow a school, you have to start from the ground up. Under the big umbrella of growing a school you have to retain families and make sure they’re happy.

Q What are your specific strategies for growing the sites you oversee?

A The goal of growth is kind of like a two-pronged approach. In terms of the marketing aspect and reaching out, I know some people use Facebook and others don’t use it at all. That’s what I’m noticing down in Milford, also in all of southern Delaware. The marketing prong of this is about finding the different ways of how to reach out. Is it on Facebook? Is it by emailing families newsletters? Also, sending the kids out to play public performances, I think, is wonderful because that creates awareness and word of mouth. I’m a huge believer that word of mouth is the way to go. That’s how you build any business that you want. In the past, that’s how I’ve built my private studios. To grow a school, you also need great teachers. We have fabulous teachers right now, but we need to expand to have the supply meet the demand. We have a waiting list of students who want to have lessons, so we’re hiring faculty members to meet that demand.

Q Why have you decided to split your time between working in Wilmington and the Music School’s southern sites?

A When they approached me to ask if I wanted to be the director, I instantly loved the idea of being able to be in charge of something and to help lead. I think of it like a team because we’re all working together for the greater good. But I didn’t want to give up my kids in Wilmington. I love teaching children, so I wanted to maintain a balance with that. As a young teacher, I’m still learning. And I think we’re all still learning, but at 26, I don’t want to stop teaching.

Q What’s it about working with children that you enjoy?

A I love working with kids. I’ve worked with kids my whole life. Even though I’ve only taught at the Music School for one year, I’ve taught children for like 15 years. Kids are really unpredictable. The Suzuki method is designed for small children like a 3 year old, but we adapt it for the older beginners. When they’re so young you can help to mold them, help to craft them and you can provide guidance to them. What’s really rewarding for me is when a kid has been struggling with a skill that they can’t get right away. Some kids get things really fast. But it’s really rewarding when a kid can’t get something right away and they practice it and you work with them and you come up with all of these different ways to do it. And then on the day of their lesson they come in and have this big beaming smile, they barge into the lesson and they say ‘Ms. Katie, I got! I got it!’

Q Why do you feel you’re the right person for the music director position?

A Because I am young and I have that enthusiasm, that vibrant personality. I feel I’m able to connect, not only with kids really well, but also with parents and families. I have outstanding organizational skills, and that’s something Kate Ransom [president of the Music School] said.