The small sign on the teal blue mailbox still identifies it as home to The Music Staff.  But the house at 3100 Tyre Neck Road is quiet and mostly empty now.  All the pianos are gone, along with any other sign of the musical instruments that for so long produced a rhapsody of learning.  "I'm going to miss this place," Mary Ann Medlin said,  as she walked around, explaining the layout of the deserted music school.  "But I thought 30 years was enough."  Medlin's dream had been a community school where students of all backgrounds could learn to love and play music.  And that's what The Music Staff became in the heart of Western Branch.

Still, Medlin conceded she's "probably over the business end of it."  The house, which includes 11 studios, a music theory computer lab and a recital room, soon will be listed for sale.  Medlin led the way across a parking lot to the house she and her family eventually bought behind the school.  There she has now carved out a greatly downsized version of her school in what  used to be an in-law suite.


As of July 1, she began concentrating on teaching  piano-- what  she's always loved.  Another  room is setaside for two additional instructors.  Danielle fagan teaches violin, viola and cello.  Medlin's daughter, Christine Butler, teacher violin and classical guitar.  Butler, a special education teacher, also instructs one group class for students with disabilities.  And Medlin continues to to have another teacher go to preschools and daycare centers to offer "Play & Sing™", a music curriculum Butler created.  

On a recent weekday, Brandon Hight sat in the waiting room of Medlin's new musical suite while his sons got their piano lessons.  Caleb, 11, played a waltz he was still learning.  "Play it like its Kabalevsky, not Chopin", Medlin reminded her  student.  Afterwards she  let him play a selection from the "Harry Potter" soundtrack.  He was in his element then, his young, thin  fingers happily flying over the piano keys.  Medlin likes to see children enjoying their music.

Her mother started her on the piano when she was 5, and she was teaching by the time  she was in high school.  She majored in piano performance at Virginia Commonwealth University.  And she taught piano from her home for years after she and her husband, Roger, moved to Chesapeake in 1971.  But Medlin craved the daily collaboration and connection  with  other teachers.  She was an active member of the Tidewater Music Teachers Forum, but the professional organization  only met once a month.  "I just wanted to be teaching in more of a school situation," she said.  She was a 36-year-old mother of three when she  opened the school.  At it's peak, The Music Staff numbered 14 instructors, more than 300 students and instruction in just about every musical instrument from strings and classical guitar to woodwinds and brass.


In recent years, one of her teachers, Mike Oberdorfer, started a rock band class.  "I'm a hundred percent classical," she said.  But the  rock band was a hit, she conceded.  "He just really, really did a great job with the kids," she said.  Medlin said she was always fortunate to have good teachers on staff.  Glenda Crane, who taught piano, was with her all 30 years.  And some of the children she watched grow up through weekly music lessons came back from  college and joined the staff, too.  Nick Conty returned to teach woodwinds, Lisa Carter, Rachel Matthews and Kelly Vaughan came back to teach piano and Christine Butler (Medlin's daughter) to teach violin and special needs.

Vaughn had been Medlin's student for 11 years before she graduated from high school.  "She basically became like a second mother to me," Vaughan

said.  "I really connected with her.  And I learned most of what I know about music from her."  Vaughan also learned something about teaching from her musical mentor.  "Every student is different and you don't have to have a formula," Vaughan said.


Now that the school has downsized, Vaughan play in a local band called "Breaking Brad" and teaches and the Governor's School for the Arts.  Medlin is comfortable knowing that the love of music and learning fostered for so many years did not end the the former life of The Music Staff.  "The teachers who taught for me pretty much are all going out  on their own," she said.  "They're still in the community doing a lot of what we did."  

By Janie Bryant

Virginian-Pilot correspondent

​Clipper  July 26, 2015

Article from Chesapeake Clipper on July 26, 2015