Claire Seltzer (right) and Nellie Sunshine (left), practice a cello duet (Ismara Corea/WUFT News)

Gainesville music teacher reinvents how to love music

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If you walk past Nellie ‘Sunshine’ Eshleman home this holiday season, you’ll hear the strum of a cello, a piano to the tune of ‘Carol of the Bells’ and the timbre of violins. You’ll also hear her cheers, reassurances and laughs.

Her home, Sunshine Music Studio, is the musical escape for students, some learning the building blocks of music while others practice for recitals.

“I don’t know this one, but I know how it sounds,” Zoraya Garcia, a cello student said.

“That’s okay, it’s good you know how it sounds,” Sunshine replied.

Zoraya Garcia on cello (left) and Nellie Sunshine on piano (right), share a duet (Ismara Corea/WUFT News)

Sunshine has been reinventing how to teach more than just music for 25 years. The culture of Sunshine’s studio focuses on the love of music, history, the composers, styles and lastly competition. She does it all from the inside of her home studio.

She had always planned to do music education. Sunshine attended the University of Florida for music and a bachelor’s in education. She is a former member of the UF Orchestra, the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra, Ocala Symphony, and Jacksonville Orchestra.

She figured she would one day work in schools, but she found a surprising outcome working out of her home studio.

At first, it was a balancing act for Sunshine. She worked as a financial director at a school while also teaching six students instead of thirty.

However, there came a moment were Sunshine had to decide whether to keep her balancing act or fully plunge into her home studio. It is safe to say, Nellie took the leap.

“It was just amazing, especially since I was actually teaching, people were coming to me, having a good time and learning,” Sunshine said.

Sunshine utilizes the Suzuki method, mostly for the beginners she teaches. The Suzuki method is based on the practice of listening to music repeatedly to form a better understanding of it, further than only reading the music on the sheet.

She offers her students cues like: listen to me first then copy, let’s do it five times over, the more you hear it the better, let’s do it together.

Sunshine applies this method towards all her students that play a variety of different instruments.

“They want to emulate a cellist and (after) hearing those songs over and over; they are able to progress faster than other musical methods,” Sunshine said.

Sunshine’s students through the years are more than just apprentices, they become family. Most student’s she begins with from age seven and usually teaches them until they’re 17. Most of her students cling onto her main instrument, the cello.

All of Sunshine’s students know that the foundation of cello is based on Bach and the Baroque era. Her student’s do not normally perform Bach until they’re a few years in training.

To teach more than just music, Sunshine places an important emphasis on learning about the composers the students are playing.

Piano student Ivan Lopez arrived for his lesson prepared with notecards detailing the history behind his lesson.

“If you write it down, I want you to listen to it,” Sunshine said.

Lopez is a former member of Sunshine’s composer club. However, holding Sunshine’s teachings close, he now researchers his favorite bands compositions as a hobby and tells Sunshine all about his findings.

Ivan Lopez (front) and Nellie Sunshine (back), practicing piano (Ismara Corea/WUFT News)

Many of her students go on to apply for schools of music, typically at UF. Others also dream of becoming professional cellists after her lessons.

“It’s my ultimate goal for them to love music,” Sunshine said. “Honestly, it’s not my goal for them to become cello professors or performers, it’s just to feel like the cello is (their) oasis.”

Sunshine strives to create a music environment that provides an escape away from hardships. She also emphasizes the importance of her musicians being friends and building dynamics to grow together through music.

Growing up, Sunshine was in a quartet that practiced together all the time, which meant their lives were always meshed. She encourages the same opportunities for her students.

“Sometimes I hear some of my students talking about musical terms and creating music,” Sunshine said. “Seeing them working together without being prompted to is why I teach.”

Individualizing teaching methods instead of having general benchmarks for every student is how Sunshine has reinvented her teaching.

In her childhood, Sunshine remembers lessons that left her defeated, sad and ultimately made her reject the idea of fun competition as a player. One of her main focuses is hoping she creates a different experience for her students.

Consequently, she’s had a positive response to her methods.

“There is definitely satisfaction when performances come or when a student has pushed themselves so much,” Sunshine said.

In contrast to her childhood, Sunshine’s students look forward to competitions and go on to win superiors at musical festivals in town. Her students strive to be involved with the community; it’s one of their priorities.

To keep her lessons a haven, Sunshine may not be a promoter of competition herself, but she’ll always be her students’ number one fan.

“I want to be there as a support system for my students if they want that,” Sunshine said. “I always find myself to be like a cheerleader that pushes my students out of their comfort zone into harder spots.

Sunshine’s music studio is not only for children. She’s welcomed all ages and has learned the different teaching styles for all ages.

She meets with an adult orchestra of cellos that arrange pop music familiar to them and play together. Other times, they play for the community.

“The cool thing with my adults is they choose to do this, they’re not being guided towards it, and they’re very good practices,” Sunshine said. “They’re there to enrich their minds and to keep learning.”

Music to Sunshine shouldn’t be a luxury. For those individuals who cannot afford an instrument or lessons, she has created a scholarship program.

Her program offers a student a keyboard to work with at home. When they might not have enough room for a keyboard at home, she offers pro-bono lessons in her home.

Some of her scholarship recipients in the past have successfully moved on to other instruments and even found other musicians they can perform with.

For Sunshine, breaking out of the box of classical sheet music and exploring outside of the lessons is one of her main goals. She wants her students to treat their instruments like an adventure, not a chore.

“This love of music is what I want my students to feel. And if they’re not, then I must change something,” Sunshine said.

About Ismara Corea

Ismara is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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