When 17-year-old flutist Kyrese Washington took the stage with Pink Martini and the N.C. Symphony, he could barely believe he had the opportunity to perform in front of such a large audience. The Millbrook High School student had submitted an audition tape with the help of the Community Music School (CMS) to perform a solo in front of a crowd of approximately 1,500 people, an important milestone in the young musician’s career.
For the past 23 years, CMS has provided students with multiple opportunities like the one Washington had with Pink Martini, all while teaching them to read and play music for only $1 per lesson, a token amount meant to symbolize a commitment to the program. With fewer public schools offering music programs, CMS has been one of the only affordable local programs for youth seeking to learn to play instruments. Unfortunately, this unique program that has inspired young musicians for the last 20 years may be on the verge of closing permanently.
Since 1994, the school has served the community through individual donations, corporations, foundations and public grants. That funding unfortunately ran out in October of last year, forcing CMS to temporarily close its doors until further notice. A final decision on the future of the organization will come this month.
“The board has been trying to build up a better fund development program, but we have only been able to go year to year,” says Rose Kenyon, a CMS board member. “The reserve was so thin this year that we felt we had no choice other than to suspend classes while we figured out how to raise some more money and that’s where we are right now.”
Approximately 2,000 low-income children have passed through the doors of CMS since its creation, playing in recitals, performing in the community, and joining ensembles as they get older. Several children have even gone on to study music in college, says Kenyon. It is for these children that the board is working diligently to try to re-open CMS.
“We launched a campaign to raise about $100,000 to have enough money to see us through the end of the school year,” said Kenyon. “The families were very disappointed. They are trying to raise money too.”
Inez Brewington, a grandmother of two CMS students, is one example of how involved CMS families are in supporting musical growth in the community. “I’ve been a volunteer and I’ve seen how it’s such a blessing to those kids,” she says. “They’re excited about coming, learning, and the recitals. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for children to get an appreciation for music.”
Brewington reiterated how much 30 minutes of one-on-one lessons matters, even if a half hour does not seem like a lot of time to most people. “It’s not just 30 minutes, but so much more that they get from being a part of that school,” she says. “I would hate to see people who have so much that they can give not know about the need for the school. I’ve told everyone I know and we’ve had small fundraisers, but we need big money right now.”
Brewington’s 18-year-old grandson Ari and 11-year-old grandson Caleb both cried when they heard the school was closing. Since enrolling, both boys have gained an appreciation for classical music; Caleb favors Chopin and Beethoven and Ari has joined the jazz ensemble, which continues to practice in Brewington’s basement.
“I don’t want to imagine where they would be, especially being black boys,” says Brewington. “The streets are out there waiting for them. To have a place where they can go and play music; they don’t hang out on the corner with their pants hanging down, but they come to my house and play music.”
Although CMS’s doors are closed for now, the students continue to play at home and hope the school will reopen soon. While Ari plays jazz in his grandmother’s basement, Washington continues to take lessons at the home of Kelly Roudabush, his teacher of four years.
“The backbone of the Community Music School has been a faculty of some of the best music teachers in Raleigh who have been dedicated to helping our kids,” said Kenyon of the almost 20 faculty members on staff who have not received a pay increase in more than 20 years. “We know the suspension of classes broke their hearts too.”
Temporary is the key word to this situation though, with both staff and students hoping enough money will be raised to continue musical education. “Kids have a faith that we don’t always have, and they know it’s just an amount of time for classes to start back,” says Brewington.
For more information on ways to help CMS, visit cmsraleigh.org.