Classically Speaking: Community Music School
Photo by Jean-Peirre Thimot
Not that long ago, playing a musical instrument was considered the hallmark of achievement for a well-educated youngster. One way that families new to the United States gauged their “success” was by their ability to provide their children with music lessons. Then the lucky young person would be expected to entertain at family functions, holidays, and celebrations.
Perhaps due to the ever-present iPod, interest in making music has risen once again. True, most kids are aspiring rock stars or guitar heroes, but many have taken it up a notch and become interested in serious music making and composing. In most cases, they get their first formal training in schools and from independent instructors. Enter one of the best-kept musical secrets of Buffalo, the Community Music School (CMS) on Elmwood Avenue.
CMS was founded in 1924 as the First Settlement Music School by members of the Chromatic Club of Buffalo. Part of the Settlement House movement, the school was concerned with providing high-culture musical education to immigrants without regard to their ability to pay for lessons. In that year, fifty-eight students studied piano and violin. Soon, voice, harmony, chorus, and dance were offered; the lineup has recently expanded to include winds, electric guitar, jazz, percussion, songwriting, and computer composition.
Jeff Paterson, executive director of CMS, says that many changes have occurred at the school in its eighty-eight-year history but one guiding principle remains the same: “Music is for everyone! We take pride in serving people of all backgrounds, all abilities, all ambitions, and all ages.”
Last year, CMS served over 300 students ranging in age from six months to eighty-six years in instructional programs at over ten locations around Western New York, including Snyder, Getzville, East Aurora, Lancaster, Lockport, Lackawanna, Clarence, and South Buffalo.
Almost a third of the students are adults who come to CMS because they find “music is comfort, solace, and inspiration,” says Paterson. “Adults are often the best students because they take their instruction seriously and spend much more time at home practicing their instruments.”
Some thirty-two musicians with extensive training in music performance serve as faculty. They must audition for their positions to ensure that they have the appropriate skills for helping students attain the best results from instruction. The curriculum is established, although flexibility is important so that instructors can teach at a comfortable pace.
New programs for the fall include a music appreciation lecture series; the “Second Chance Band,” an opportunity for folks to dust off their old instruments and play in an ensemble; a “Joy of Singing Together” class; and early childhood lessons for six-month to three-year-old students and their parents.
Even with tighter budgets, CMS can still provide financial assistance to students based on need. So now is a wonderful time to rethink that urge to play a musical instrument. As Paterson notes, “Age doesn’t matter as much as a love of music.”