How One Community Acted To Save Music Education

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IT looks more like a cross between aerobics and mime than a music class, but the swinging, climbing, and falling all have a musical counterpart in rhythm, pitch, and tempo.

The preschoolers in Rebecca Carson Rogers's ``Kindermusic'' session are getting a feel for music, whether they know it or not.

Kindermusic is among dozens of classes taught each week at Indian Hill Arts, a community music program that has served the region northwest of Boston for nearly a decade. Students range in age from ``18 months old to 76 years old,'' says Erika Kraft, director of the music school.

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Lots of the adult students, she explains, are parents or grandparents who couldn't just sit by and let the kids have all the fun. ``Many would sit in the halls here, or at home, and listen to the kids practicing and wish they could play too,'' Ms. Kraft says.

The program has grown quickly in the last few years and has nearly 800 students and a long waiting list. ``A lot of people come here because they're getting so little music in the public schools'' because of budget cuts, says Camilla Blackman, who has served on the board of directors since the school was founded in 1985. ``That may be why we've grown so extremely rapidly.''

Indian Hill is one of hundreds of community schools of music spread around the country, with a marked concentration in the Northeast. The National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts has 221 members in 41 states, including Indian Hill, but the total of all community-based arts programs is estimated at about 400.

Indian Hill includes a full professional orchestra. Until a school in St. Louis recently organized an orchestra, Indian Hill had been the only community music program in the country that included a full professional symphony, according to Kraft.

People ask why musicians would want to travel 30 miles out of Boston to a small-town setting to play, says Susan Randazzo, manager of the orchestra. She explains that musical reasons include the solid reputation of Indian Hill's music director and conductor, Paul Gay, and a repertoire balanced between ``traditional literature'' and ``risk -taking.''

The deep community roots of the orchestra, which predates the music school by about a decade, are also a strength. Businesses in nearby towns are avid backers of the symphony. ``We're very popular with the real estate people,'' jokes Ms. Blackman, who grew up in the area and remembers when you had to travel to Cambridge or Boston to hear a concert or even get piano lessons.

If the musicians enjoy playing for Indian Hill, students enjoy having so many professionals right at hand. At one special concert each year, students sit with orchestra members. Afterward, there's a ``petting zoo of instruments,'' as children from the audience are invited up to take a closer look. It's a ``demystifying'' experience, says Evelyn Dueck, executive director at Indian Hill and a professional violinist.

An operation like this, with its reliance on professional musicians, is not inexpensive. The organization relies on a combination of funding sources - from students' tuition to donations from community members to occasional government grants.

An effort is made to keep tuition reasonable, since one aim of the program is to provide music training to as many people as possible, Blackman says.

But each dollar spent to keep the school and orchestra running is an investment in the future of music, staffers say. Every child who learns to tap out a rhythm may become a patron of musical programs like those offered at Indian Hill.

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