Bringing the Community Together Through Music

June 3, 2018

CMS choir students and Black History Month concert

It’s time for music class and a group of 2nd graders file into the room; each face lighting up as they see rows of violins lined up on the ground. The levels of intrigue and excitement grow as each student is placed in front of one of these beautiful instruments. As the class begins and the children are told that they will get the chance to actually play the instruments in front of them, the look of amazement on some of the students’ faces is invaluable and the reason MSU Community Music School (CMS) brings music out into the community.

MSU Community Music School’s mission is to provide music education and music therapy to people of all ages, incomes, and abilities – even if it means taking the music experience outside the doors of CMS and bringing it directly to the people that may need it the most. The violin outreach program referenced earlier is called Got Strings?, and with the generous grant funding provided by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), CMS has been able to bring this valuable program into select elementary school classrooms (specifically those that have a free/reduced price lunch participation rate of at least 40 percent) for six years.

Through this program, professional CMS string instructors bring  appropriately-sized violins – enough for the number of students enrolled in the classes. During the school’s typical music period, which is approximately 50 minutes to an hour, children are taught about the various parts of the violin, learn proper technique for holding the instrument, and even learn a song to play! Instruction is presented to the group but one-on-one help is offered by CMS string instructors floating throughout the room. Approximately 5-8 visits are made each year between February and May; all of which is done at no cost to the schools/students.

An additional outreach initiative bringing music into local schools is the CMS after-school choir program, also made possible by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Launched in 2016, this free, after-school choir program provides vocal/choir opportunities to local youth in low-income areas. For the past two years, professional CMS choir instructors have traveled each week during the school year to teach a total of 196 third and fourth grade students at Winans and Elmwood Elementary schools. As part of the outreach program, these after-school choirs also performed at the CMS annual Fall and Spring choir concerts, and collaborated on a Black History Month concert/tour with the CMS Children’s and Youth Choirs.

In February 2018, members of the in-house CMS Singers children’s choir and after-school choirs, traveled to Winans Elementary, Elmwood Elementary, Waverly High School, and even the MSU Union, to perform for students in celebration of Black History Month. In just one day, these singers performed for over 1,000 people! At the end of the day, the students from all three choirs, which was close to 900 kids, put on a combined concert for the community at Waverly High School. The songs selected for this performance were intended to teach the singers and student audiences about African American culture and Black History month. This collaboration combined communities of people and exposed them to meaningful ideas beyond the typical choir concert. A testament to the success of this event and program was given by the principal at Winans Elementary when she shared that in her 31 years teaching in the Waverly Schools, she has never witnessed such a successful collaboration as with this concert and choir program.