GREENWICH, Conn. — Rodica Brune of Greenwich knows as well as anyone that children require the right balance of academics, athletics and arts to develop into well-rounded individuals.
Lately, however, the owner of Atelier Constantin Popescu and Riverside of School of Music, has seen students and their parents dismiss an important piece of that equation. Specifically, fewer students are dedicating themselves to practicing to play stringed instruments.
“There are too many distractions,’’ said Brune, who owns the business with her husband, Constantin Popescu. He opened his first music store in Westport in 1995.
“Children have so much going on. The parents are busy driving them around to sports, to play dates, to wherever, and when it comes to their priorities, it’s not always the violin. Often, it’s the play date or the ball game. We used to see more parents who had played an instrument themselves or were sorry that they didn’t have the opportunity, and they made music a priority. That’s not the case now.”
Most Fairfield County schools still offer lessons in stringed instruments in elementary school. Many of those students, however, turn to band when they reach middle school and many of them give up music altogether.
“Strings require commitment,’’ Brune said. “After the initial excitement, children may feel like they don’t want to practice. If parents are not committed or don’t realize they must take the time to encourage their child to play, it’s not going anywhere.”
Brune believes parents who do not promote learning stringed instruments are missing a critical cognitive component of their child’s intellectual development.
“There’s a direct correlation between scientific thinking and playing a stringed instrument,’’ Brune said. “There is a lot of research that shows the process of learning and playing a musical instrument is totally different for the brain than learning something linear. Playing an instrument requires multiple activities at once: seeing, feeling, listening, understanding and doing different things with both hands. Playing an instrument uses both sides of the brain.”
Brune said research indicates that few strings musicians develop Alzheimer’s. Some people, she said, decide to start learning stringed instruments after getting diagnosed with the disease, as it can slow its progress. “If it can happen with Alzheimer’s patients, imagine what it can do to a brain that is developing and absorbing,’’ Brune said. “It’s totally amazing. I have seen it with my own eyes. Children who play stringed instruments develop ahead of their peers who are not playing.”
Constantin has been teaching students the nuances of stringed instruments since he opened his first store in Westport. He studied at Juilliard and played with the New York Philharmonic. He taught double bass at a music store in Westport when he first started out, and when an instrument repairman retired, the owner asked Constantin to help out. “He was surprised by what Constantin could do,’’ Rodica said.
The couple opened their own store in Westport, and Rodica came on full-time, giving up a career in the business world in which she worked for General Motors, RCA and Philip Morris. “Business took off like a rocket,’’ Rodica said. “At one point, I was between jobs, and Constantin was struggling to keep up with the business side of things, so I said OK, I’ll help you.”
Atelier Constantin Popescu still has a location in Westport, along with its Greenwich location in Cos Cob. The store sells the finest quality European instruments, offers lessons at the Riverside School of Music, and also provides rental instruments. The store has grown to five employees, several part-time workers and independent teachers who help with music lessons.
While their business is strong, Brune feels strongly that more parents and students should learn how to play stringed instruments.
“Yes, it’s nice to play sports and develop muscles, but it’s also nice to develop your brain,’’ she said. “By offering high-quality instruments and lessons, we pride ourselves on leaving behind a legacy of music.”
Atelier and Riverside School of Music are located at 403 East Putnam Ave. in Cos Cob and 25 Davenport Ave. in Westport. For more information, click here to visit the Atelier Constantin Popescu website: http://www. atelierconstantinpopescu.com