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Access & Opportunity in the Classical Music World

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In his recent article in Gothamist, “What the Death of a Manhattan Music School Says About Opportunity in The Classical World,” James Bennett II laments the imminent closing of the beloved Turtle Bay Music School and notes that opportunities for children to discover and explore their musical talent are too frequently a function of their families’ income. It’s a problem, he writes, when a nonprofit like TBMS “that provides a unique service shutters, and there’s nothing left to fill the void.”

While we too regret the loss of Turtle Bay Music School, to claim that children now have few options for music education is simply wrong. Mr. Bennett is missing the larger context of new and expanding opportunities for young people to participate in classical music. The service provided by TBMS is indeed invaluable, but fortunately neither unique nor rare in NYC’s vibrant musical landscape. In response to the school’s closing, seven of the forty members of the New York chapter of the National Guild for Community Arts Education along with the Edwin Caplin Foundation have come together to serve TBMS’s scholarship students, including Kaufman Music Center’s Lucy Moses School, Bloomingdale School of Music, Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn Music School, Greenwich House, 92nd Street Y School of Music and Third Street Music School Settlement.

It’s true, as Mr. Bennett notes, that the U.S. has no uniform system for getting kids started in music. Instead, we are lucky to have a diverse group of music schools and cultural institutions big and small that are making music study accessible to families of all backgrounds with a broad array of innovative programs. At Kaufman Music Center, the music nonprofit where I serve as Executive Director, our education programs spread over two schools and a number of other programs are thriving. Enrollment is rising, and our community is giving more generously than ever before to enable our 4,000+ students to participate in music, dance and theater each year. We’re proud that our number of donors continues to rise, year after year, with more people making contributions and new foundations and corporations investing in our students.

As Mr. Bennett notes, music education is expensive, and access is key. To have any impact on what professional music will look like in the future, the process must begin at the beginning of a child’s education. At Special Music School (M. 859), our K-12 public school that teaches music as a core subject just like English or math, kids from all over NYC study music history and theory, play in ensembles, and take private instrument lessons during the regular school day. This world class music program is offered at no cost to the students’ families, whose backgrounds and socioeconomic status are as diverse as NYC. Our students consistently achieve amazing results as musicians, and what’s more, we see the impact of studying music on their academic success. We are very proud of SMS High School’s 100% graduation and college acceptance rate.

Children are more creative and engaged in the world around them than ever, and we have built programs in response to their ever-increasing curiosity. Young people have a diverse and growing array of opportunities to access music – from Dalcroze and El Sistema to youth orchestras and composition programs. An expanding number of programs for young musicians are nurturing talent at the pre-college level, including our ComposerCraft class and Face the Music program, in which 100+ adventurous teens play music in a variety of styles by living composers, including their peers. Luna Composition Lab pairs female-identifying and nonbinary teen composers with professional mentors who coach the young artists, give career advice, and introduce them to a network of female composers and performers. Cost is not a barrier: Our community arts school, Lucy Moses School, offers scholarships, and programs including Special Music School and Luna Composition Lab are fully funded. Close to half of Kaufman Music Center’s students receive scholarships or program subsidies.

Young people are leading the way towards a rich, exciting – and inclusive! – future for music. Every day I am inspired by what our accomplished young composers and performers have achieved, as well as the promise and potential of each child who picks up an instrument for the very first time. It’s thrilling to see young people’s interest in music increasing along with opportunities to explore all that the arts bring to their lives. They give me great hope for the future of our field, and also for our world. We at Kaufman Music Center are proud to join the many NYC cultural organizations that are helping kids (and adults!) realize their full potential by making music education accessible to all. I invite you to come see a concert, take a class and get inspired by our students!


Kate Sheeran
Executive Director
Kaufman Music Center