Composition class at the Community Music School began last week with a lesson in primary chords.
A handful of students sat and listened intently to teacher Matt Douglas as he explained the fundamentals in front of a whiteboard covered in blue marker examples.
A short time later, they were busy writing their own chord progressions in pairs at pianos throughout the stone building the school calls home on Tucker Street near Glenwood South.
Then, it was time for a melody. Each pair scribbled notes they could layer over their progression until they arrived at a composition they could call their own just hours after they began.
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Douglas said the compositions could become part of an expanded work or just exist on their own as “perfect little pieces.”
“It doesn’t have to be an opus,” he said. “A simple thing can be a work of art.”
It’s an idea that fits the nonprofit school as a whole, which this year marks its 20th anniversary of providing one-on-one music lessons and other programs to low-income students. About 2,500 students have made their way through the doors since 1994, and 100 are currently enrolled.
Students from ages 6 to 18 pay just $1 for each lesson and have access to sheet music, books, instruments and an online learning program.
“Once they come, they tend to stay. It’s something that they grow with,” said executive director Linda Frenette.
Like many nonprofits, the school has seen some lean budget years, but slow and steady growth has served the school well, she said. This year, the school’s board passed its first budget of more than $200,000 with plans to add new programs such as classical percussion lessons.
To mark the close of its second decade, the school is the midst of a $20,000 fundraising campaign. If it can meet its mark, it’ll pull in $10,000 in foundation grants as well.
Kyrese Washington, 14, who plays the flute and saxophone, said the school has nurtured his love for music. He likes the challenge of working to master something new with each lesson.
“I like that it’s something that I can work hard at and still have fun,” he said. “I’m not going to get frustrated and give up.”
Washington, who started his lessons just a few years ago, said he can tell how much progress he’s made.
So can his grandfather, Edward Washington, who jokes that he has to turn off the lights to make Kyrese stop practicing and go to bed.
“It’s great. I would recommend for any child to come here,” he said.