Community School of the Arts breeds creativity through music, art

by Dee Grano

The Community School of the Arts has opportunities for children across Charlotte no matter if they’re just learning to play or have been doing it for years. Photo courtesy of Community School of the Arts

For members of the Community School of the Arts, no matter how long they’ve played, they can always find something new and challenging to do.

“I play the violin, but it’s still fun to experiment,” said 18-year-old Avery McGuirt, a senior at Mallard Creek High School in north Charlotte. McGuirt was 5 when he started taking music lessons.

“I love classical, but one of the most enjoyable activities for me is to improvise – anything from bluegrass to jazz,” he said.

McGuirt is one of thousands of students who have found a creative outlet at Community School of the Arts, an organization that provides music and art education to the general public.

CSA began in 1969 when Henry Bridges, the organist and choir director of First Presbyterian Church, found 15 pianos collecting dust in the basement. Bridges recruited four piano teachers and opened the doors to neighborhood kids who had no access to music lessons.

CSA now has studio locations all over Mecklenburg County. The group teaches more than 3,000 students annually in a variety of subjects including drama, pottery and visual art, in addition to violin, jazz, band and orchestra.

And while still committed to underserved communities, Executive Director Andrea Stevenson said, “We are not exclusive.”

“If you love music and art we can find a place for you,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Community School of the Arts

The beginning age for instruction varies by class, but the youngest start as early as 3. While most students are younger than 18, Stevenson said, “our oldest is in his 60s.” Stevenson also took CSA voice lessons last summer.

CSA’s programs are divided into three main educational opportunities in year-round music (private music lessons, small group singing and ensemble classes), year-round art (including a preschool arts lab and classes in drawing, painting and pottery) and summer camps that offer all of the above.

Many lessons start with complete beginners. Private lessons (meaning one-on-one instruction) in the Suzuki method of music instruction (named after Dr. Shinichi Suzuki) are popular with young children all over the world.

The Suzuki method helps students learn to play violin the same way they learn language.  “They learn to play by ear before they learn to read a staff,” Stevenson explained. The results are a wide variety and range of repertoire learned in a surprisingly short period of time. Parents are encouraged and empowered to help teach at home regardless of their familiarity with music.

In addition to private music lessons, CSA offers several classes in the Suzuki method in group instruction, particularly a “primer” level summer camp specially designed for students 4 to 7 years old who have never played.

Photo courtesy of Community School of the Arts

“Each child is fitted with a loaner violin so parents can gauge their child’s interest before making a financial investment,” Stevenson said.
CSA also collaborates with Clayworks, offering students 6 to 10 years old the chance to learn how to make pottery using hand building, the wheel and other techniques to create brightly colored, personalized pottery.

“We have had to expand to six sessions because it sells out every time,” Program Director Aram Kim Bryan said. CSA’s entire summer camp program has grown exponentially from six weeks to 15.

To ensure everyone can participate, CSA provides payment plans and financial aid.  Applications are available at www.csarts.org and are due April 30 for this season. The camp brochure includes each camp director’s email address in case parents have special needs situations or requirements.

“Whatever it takes,” Bryan said.

For Bryan, the highlight of her job is seeing the camaraderie among the band and orchestra students who start playing together in fourth grade.

“They get together every summer and share their passion for playing,” she said.

Bryan said some former campers, now college students, have returned as volunteers to help younger participants.

“Students involved in music and art have better grades, higher test scores and increased graduation rates,” Stevenson said.

Bryan, a trained violist added, “Music gives kids a different voice and teaches them a new way to communicate.”

McGuirt, the young violinist, agreed.

“I think that my study of music has been a direct factor in my performance in school and my intellectual development,” McGuirt said. Music also gave him the opportunity to go to France to play in an international youth orchestra.

“I was exposed to an amazing variety of cultures and ways of thought,” he said.

Expose yourself or your child to music and art and boost your creativity. Find more information about Community School of the Arts at its website, www.csarts.org.

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