CMA Rocks the House: Giving the Gift of Music in the Heart of Lexington
By Kim Thomas
The Central Music Academy is celebrating its 10th anniversary of ‘giving the gift of music in the heart of Lexington’ with a fundraiser at the historic Bodley-Bullock House on October 24. Guests will bid on vinyl record artwork created by local artists, and will be entertained with music provided by CMA students and teachers.
Director of CMA, Erin Walker Bliss, explains the vinyl connection, “We have 21 local artists making artwork out of old vinyl records–everything from paintings to lamps to tables. The art will be auctioned off at our fundraising event on October 24.”
According to CMA volunteer coordinator Anabelle Wright-Gatton, some pieces are prime for display. Participating artists include Pat Gerhard, Arturo Sandoval, Bianca Spriggs, Lawrence Tarpey, John Ridener, and Blake Eames.
Central Music Academy
CMA has been providing free music lessons to underprivileged children for more than a decade – more than 800 children and totaling 20,000+ lessons! CMA teaches lessons to around 120 kids per semester and has a waiting list of around 40 kids (capacity is based on funding).
Ten years ago, the founding board of CMA (Joshua Santana, Don Barney, Michael Rintamaa, George Zack, Harry Richart, Ben Arnold, Kate Covington, Linda Reeb, and Sugar Slabaugh) wanted to make music education available to all children in Lexington, regardless of financial need. CMA was incorporated in February 2004 and received tax-exempt status in October of that year, with its stated mission being to give free musical training to financially disadvantaged kids. CMA’s first program was a week-long percussion camp in the summer of 2005, with a small private lesson program beginning that fall. Bliss adds, “Our student roster expanded dramatically through a partnership with the Lucille Caudill Little Foundation and the Fayette County Public Schools in 2008; today we give free private lessons on 18 different instruments to around 120 children weekly.”
Joshua Santana, Chair of CMA’s Board speaks from personal history when he talks about the mission. “Music education is important. I can say this because I know from my personal experience the impact music can have on a young person’s life. Having grown up in New York’s East Harlem, I know for a fact that it was my involvement in music that kept me from ever considering the ubiquitous fake enticements of heroin, gangs, and crime. To the extent CMA’s work makes it possible for even one of our students to have a similar experience, it is a great success story. And I am here to tell you that based on the comments of our students and their parents, we are making a huge difference.”
CMA Mentors Musicians
Vocal coach and soprano extraordinaire Wright-Gatton started teaching voice at CMA in 2010, “after they received grant funding to bring on additional students and teachers. I was excited to teach at CMA — the meaningful mission, the interesting students, wonderful staff and fellow teachers – but as much as I enjoy private teaching and mentoring, getting to be a part of the larger organization as Volunteer Coordinator is what has truly been gratifying. I have said that when I work with individual students in their lessons, I get to see the beautiful individual trees, which is great, but since I’ve joined the staff, I now get to see more of the entire forest too, which is really inspiring and meaningful to me.” She continues to plan and manage most of the outreach events and helps with general marketing and publicity aspects, fundraising, office duties, organizational planning.
Michelle Clouse, Assistant Director, points out how CMA has grown to be a multi-faceted operation. “In addition to offering private music lessons, we have offered group guitar class, clarinet choir, and a Rock Band class. Recently, CMA was selected to be a part of the Berklee City Music Network; being a member of the BCMN connects CMA to like-minded programs across the country and our students have access to PULSE, a state-of-the-art online teaching tool to help them develop as musicians,” says Clouse. “It is awe-inspiring to see how much progress the students make, not only every semester, but year to year. Our wonderful teachers create a positive learning atmosphere and encourage students to reach their full potential.”
How to Qualify?
Students may apply to through the CMA website, centralmusicacademy.org. According to Bliss, “As long as they qualify for free/reduced lunch at school and are between the ages of 8 and 18, they qualify for free lessons at CMA! We do have a waiting list right now, but once students are accepted to our program, they receive a half hour lesson with a qualified professional every week. Our 30 teachers have all either received or are currently working on college degrees in music, with 30 percent of them either working on or having completed doctorates in music. CMA has given over 20,000 private music lessons to over 800 kids since our inception, and we have had a number of students take successful auditions into SCAPA, CKYO, all-district and all-state choir, band, and orchestra; and UK, EKU, Kentucky State, and Morehead State. CMA students participate in yearly recitals and outreach concerts.”
CMA’s volunteer roster is a Who’s Who of virtuoso musicians, familiar names — imagine taking free piano lessons from local jazz legend Raleigh Dailey or vocal lessons from Brittany Benningfield. The things learned from music lessons are discipline, patience, perseverance, dependability, composure, courage and pride in results. What better tools could equip a child for adulthood?
What You Can Do
How can you assist in this effort, this tremendous opportunity CMA provides to children who might otherwise never discover the magic of finding one’s own musical escape? Bliss says CMA always accept donations of instruments (violins, violas, guitars, clarinets especially, but any instrument donated is most appreciated and put to good use), sheet music, or office supplies (ink, paper, tissues, handsoap and the like). “We also appreciate financial support; providing one free music lesson for a child is $20; or $80/month, or $800/year. We often solicit volunteers to help with community outreach events throughout the year, so if readers are interested in helping with these, they can call CMA’s volunteer coordinator at (859) 321-9729.”
Wright-Gatton considers it a privilege to witness the power of the musical instruction. “It’s really gratifying to see the progress the students make over time, both musically and in other ways like academically and socially. There was one student for example who used to come in with a hooded sweatshirt on, his head often down, and he wasn’t very talkative or communicative. After about a year at CMA, the transformation was incredible – we were so surprised and gratified to hear him out in the waiting room talking to other students and parents, and sharing his excitement about things. Every week I hear something from or about a student that inspires me, and makes me even more excited for CMA’s future!”
Subscribe to the Ace e-dition for Lexington news, arts, culture, and entertainment, delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning.