Community Music School

By Sara Hodon

The Lehigh Valley is alive with the sound of music thanks to the talents of the faculty, staff and students of the Community Music School (CMS). Since 1981, the CMS has offered lessons to both beginner and advanced musicians who have shared their gifts with others through recitals and public performances.

“The school was founded for the purpose of providing high-quality music instruction to anyone with the desire to play, regardless of race, creed, national origin, gender, physical/mental impairment or income level,” explains Carolyn Clarke, CMS’ Director of Administration and Development. During the school’s early years, only piano, voice and a few violin classes were offered, with the primary focus on classical music. Today, CMS serves over 1,000 students annually, and its programs have grown along with its enrollment.

“We teach every instrument – even banjo – and have classes in all genres,” Clarke says. “Classical music is still very important to us, but rock, pop, jazz, and gospel…they’re also very important.” CMS’ students range in age from 18 months to 88 years, confirming that music is a universal language to be shared and enjoyed by every generation. “Most of our students – about 85 percent – are 18 years or younger, but the balance is a growing population of adults, mainly the Baby Boomers who are starting to retire and get back some time, so they’re re-visiting their earlier musical educations and going back to their roots,” Clarke says.

CMS has a few elements that set them apart from other community-based music schools, Clarke says. Their faculty consists of top-notch professional musicians who have studied and practiced their craft for years. “Some play with the Allentown Symphony, the Satori ensemble and the Reading Orchestra. We have one instructor who has won a Grammy Award and has been inducted into the Polka Hall of Fame. Some have been on Broadway and continue to work on those productions. They all have incredible degrees – some have doctorates in musicology, others work with colleges and universities,” Clarke says. Regardless of their musical background or genre, the faculty’s common thread is a passion for what they do and sharing that passion with their students.

The faculty teaches at the student’s pace, so there is no set curriculum or end point. “If a student is a little slower to catch on and needs more practice, the instructor will do that. But if the student is more advanced and picks things up a little more quickly, the instructor can work with that and challenge them,” Clarke says. The school offers both private and group instruction. Clarke adds that it’s always been part of the school’s mission to find a way to provide music lessons to everyone. “There’s a lot of financial aid, whether it’s in the form of scholarships, family discounts or multi-music discipline discounts,” she says, adding that CMS offers a number of tuition-free programs at several schools in the Lehigh Valley.

CMS also provides plenty of opportunities for students to perform in front of an audience. The school holds many in-house recitals, all of which are free and open to the public. Any student can participate in the recitals, which give beginning students the opportunity to play alongside those more advanced. Recitals are held on Sundays, and Clarke says that many of the students’ parents and families plan a day out where they can hear some wonderful music and meet the families of other students. CMS has a number of ensembles and two choruses that also perform regularly. “We perform a lot in the community, which is our way of saying ‘thank you’ for the philanthropy, because most of our funding comes from grants and donations,” Clarke says, noting that groups from CMS have performed at Musikfest and also at smaller events, such as Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions Club events and hospital auxiliary benefits.

The school has a busy holiday calendar which kicked-off with their annual Monster Concert on Saturday, October 27. It also has a Thanksgiving recital scheduled for Sunday, November 17 at the Rodale Community Room at 1:30 p.m., and a Holiday Recital on Sunday, December 16 at Scottish Rite Cathedral, starting at 2 p.m. The student recitals are free.

“We have a lot of well-rounded programs, and there’s a lot of activity and enthusiasm,” Clarke says. “We really believe that music can make a difference in a child’s life.”

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