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App State’s Community Music School Continues to Make Musical Arts Accessible for All Ages; Spring Group Classes Registration Open Until Feb. 5

The Appalachian Youth Chorale at the Community Music School pictured during a rehearsal in January 2020. Photo courtesy of the Community Music School

By Harley Nefe

The Community Music School at Appalachian State University is a nonprofit organization that proudly serves Boone and the surrounding communities by making the musical arts accessible for people of all ages. 

The Community Music School has been offering private lessons to Boone and the surrounding areas for over 10 years and offers the private music lessons for all ages, which are currently being held online. In addition to the private music lessons, the Community Music School also offers online group music classes for ages 5-18. Registration for the spring group classes is open until Feb. 5, with the classes beginning the week of Feb. 15.

This past fall semester was the Community Music School’s first online semester, and Community Music School Program Manager Lisl Doughton said it was a great success.

“Our teachers have been creative in adapting their class subjects to an online format and engaging the students,” Doughton said. “We were able to create a virtual musical community and help our students express themselves through music.”

In the fall, the Community Music School had 84 students registered across all of the online classes and lessons offered. Some students signed up for multiple programs.

Katie Snodgrass takes a piano lesson over Zoom with CMS teacher Molly Reid. Photo courtesy of the Community Music School

“We were thrilled to see that we were able to bring music to so many people, especially when normal gatherings were limited, and online events are one of the biggest ways for people to make connections,” Doughton said. 

Online lessons and classes were a necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the new instruction method allowed the Community Music School to reach students from both near and far — some students were as far away as Arizona and Washington. The online instruction also is an advantage for students who are not able to drive to town to attend the lessons or classes, and the technology component allows students to be taught differently.

“After teaching online for several months, my students have not lost motivation and have continued to develop musically,” said Bryan Culler, a flute teacher for the Community Music School. “Though the different format brought its challenges, it allowed me to maintain and grow my teaching style with my students through adapting and learning alongside them.”

Maggie Quigley, a flute student of Culler said, “I’ve been taking lessons at the Community Music School for four years, and the reason that has led me to sign up again and again is quality instruction from people who care about seeing you improve, no matter what level your playing is at. Even though the situation was out of the ordinary, the program maintained its integrity. For example, even though my instructor and I couldn’t play together like we normally would, he sent me recordings of himself that I could practice with.”

The Community School also has a “Pay What You Can” model that offers various pricing options for the group classes.

“It’s incredibly important for our mission to invite any interested students to join our classes,” Doughton said. “A student’s musical abilities and creative passion are not related to how much they or their family can pay. Our “Pay What You Can” program allows the community to come together to make classes possible for everyone.”

In addition, tuition assistance is available for students to help with the costs of private lessons and group classes. The tuition assistance is made possible from donations. Interested sponsors can donate at the Community Music School’s Give Now! page at https://music.appstate.edu/about/community-music-school/you-make-difference-give-now or they can contact Community Music School Director Dr. Nicole Sonbert by email at sonbertn@appstate.edu for more information.

The online group classes for ages 5-18 that will be offered this spring include piano, guitar, ukulele and drumming in addition to the Hit Maker! (songwriting and production), Appalachian Youth Chorale, Appalachian Vocal Academy and the Appalachian Youth Orchestra classes.

Student Hannah Barton said, “My experience in Hit Maker! was really fun and different. I got to learn how to do something new and how to write my own music for the first time. I thought it was awesome!”

New this spring, the Appalachian Vocal Academy now offers three class levels and topics for high school students interested in developing their acting and audition skills.

Students signing up for the group classes will also receive two 20-minute private lessons with the class teachers or assistants.

Also new this semester, the Community Music School’s online private lessons now include drums, clarinet, trombone and yoga as well as lessons in piano, voice, guitar, violin, viola, cello, flute and trumpet. New private lesson students can begin any time of the year; however, tuition assistance is available for private lessons in full semester packages. These students must register by the Feb. 5 deadline.

Dr. Shawn Roberts shows off the drums to be used in his online class “Let’s Play Drums!” Photo by Leslie Roberts

The Community Music School is also proud to announce its newest “Let’s Play Drums!” online class for ages 12-18, which is supported by a grant from the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources. The Community Music School would like to thank the Watauga Arts Council and the Watauga Arts Council’s Executive Director Amber Bateman, who helped make the class possible for the Community Music School through the Grassroots Grant.

“We are very excited and grateful for the grant from the Watauga Arts Council! Amber Bateman, Executive Director of WAC, has worked very hard to help provide this music program with us,” said Dr. Nicole Sonbert, Director of the Community Music School. “We hope to continue to build and expand accessibility to music programming and work with our community partners to collaborate in these endeavors. We hope that by working together our community will continue to feel empowered to connect, discover and create through the arts.”

This spring, registrants for any program will receive access to live workshops on Music Theory and Creative Music-Making held over ZOOM and a series of pre-recorded workshops on Mind-Body Connections for the Performing Artist.

Overall, Doughton said the Community Music School’s teachers are looking forward to another great semester this spring.

“We have a lot of fun making music together, and I love watching young people get inspired by music for the very first time,” said Dr. Meg Stohlmann, Director of the Appalachian Youth Chorale. “That’s why I love my job so much — plus, I’ve learned so much from all of my students!”

Many of the students that were registered in the fall have already signed up to return for the spring semester.

Dean of the Hayes School of Music Dr. James Douthit said, “The Community Music School is just one way in which the Mariam Cannon Hayes School of Music brings music to our community.  In the traditional year, we offer almost 200 concerts free and open to the public.  We open our doors and share our space with district bands and orchestras, and of course, we offer Cannon Music Camp in the summer.  The Community Music School not only creates an opportunity for our community, but it serves as a laboratory for the students who teach and work with that program.  We look forward to the continued growth of the Community Music School.”

For more information about the Community Music School’s online private lessons and group classes, individuals can visit the website https://music.appstate.edu/cms. Registration for group classes is open until Friday, Feb. 5. Interested musicians can also email the Community Music School at asucommunitymusic@appstate.edu or call them at 828-262-3029.

Lisl Doughton teaches a cello lesson over Zoom. Photo courtesy of the Community Music School
David Harris, the teacher of the online “Hit Maker!” songwriting and production class. Photo courtesy of the Community Music School
Jenna Kyber, teacher of “Let’s Play Ukulele!”, “Let’s Play Guitar!, and “Let’s Play Piano!” Photo courtesy of the Community Music School
Katie Snodgrass writes a song using online software. Photo courtesy of the Community Music School