Celebrating 100 years of community music

We found this inspiring article about the Community Music Center of Boston's Centennial performances. This organization epitomizes the notion of giving back to to community at large through the gift and power of music:

The music began in a pair of settlement houses in 1910. Within those institutions, the Community Music Center of Boston initially offered education and a sense of community to recent immigrants. Since 1971, the center has been housed at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End, but its mission has remained consistent: to provide music instruction to urban students of varying ages and skill levels. They include some 5,500 students each week, many of them enabled by the $150,000-plus in scholarships given out annually.Community Music Center Students

The Community Music Center is marking its centennial with a series of 100 concerts, the first of which is next Friday at the Boston Arts Festival in the North End’s Christopher Columbus Park. The concerts will run through June 2011 and will range from solo recitals and orchestral performances to jazz and world music. According to David Lapin, the center’s executive director, virtually all of the concerts will be free, and more than half will take place in Boston schools. The Boston Public Library will also host an exhibition of Center memorabilia from January through April.

Lapin says that in its first years, the center focused on Eastern European immigrant children and the small African-American population that had migrated from the South.

“Obviously, we have a much fuller orbit to travel today,’’ he says. The school’s population now includes students from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. In the 1980s it began working with people with AIDS; more recently it has been reaching out to children with autism and older adults with Alzheimer’s disease.

“What we’ve tried to do, in each decade, is not simply look to respond to demand that’s out there for music lessons, but to create demand where it might not otherwise exist,’’ says Lapin, who has led the center since 1983. “We’re not just waiting for people to come through the door; we’re trying to create new relationships in the community and nurture a demand for arts education generally.’’String Students

That’s why the concerts – which Lapin calls “a gift to the city’’ – will be as much about outreach as about public music-making. Many will feature students from schools with which the center has had long-running partnerships, but there will also be what Lapin calls “reasonably high-end performers’’ in the recital series and in special events.

“It reflects the twin goals of access and excellence in both education and programming more generally,’’ Lapin explains. “It’s part and parcel of what we do on a regular basis, but we’re trying to enhance the visibility of the music center and use [the concerts] as a way to not only celebrate the music center [but also] try to raise higher the banner of arts education throughout the city.’’

Some of the notable events include “Performathon,’’ the center’s annual daylong fund-raising concert, and a student composer venture with the new-music ensemble Dinosaur Annex. One set of performances seems particularly intriguing: the entire cycle of Beethoven symphonies in arrangements for solo piano, four-hand piano, and two pianos. That series – which opens with the first two symphonies on Dec. 10 – should provide an interesting counterpart to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performances of the symphonies.

Like other arts institutions, the center has been affected by the recent economic downturn. Lapin found that “the demand for arts education is relatively inelastic; people will still pay for education more than they might pay for tickets to a performance.’’ The largest decline has been in contributions: Lapin says that during the winter, “no one knew what was going on, and so basically, people stopped giving for a few months. And that was pretty scary, quite frankly.’’

Though the situation has since stabilized, Lapin is taking nothing for granted. “We’ll see,’’ he says. “Like everyone else, we have more than one set of fingers crossed.’’

We at TakeLessons avidly support music education for all and wish the very best for the Community Music Center and all organizations that facilitate in providing music education to children and adults alike.

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