Over the next 71/2 weeks, the Aspen Music Festival and School will host 600 students, selected from among the best and brightest young musicians in the world. The festival’s summer performances by world-class musicians begin today with a recital by violinist Robert McDuffie and pianist Robert Spano. But the nonprofit, in recent years, has also quietly expanded its reach into Roaring Fork Valley schools with programs for local students.
Three new music school programs, developed over the past three school years, have introduced local youngsters to classical strings, guitar and singing with 20 to 40 weeks of instruction, culminating in performances at Harris Concert Hall.
The programs, with a total annual budget of $100,000 to $150,000, were set in motion by a lead gift from music school trustee Caryn Scheidt and her family.
The music school has long had a presence in local schools, holding assemblies with resident musicians and concert demonstrations throughout the school year while distributing free student passes to summer events and hosting the all-valley honor choir and band. While such ongoing programs teach music appreciation, they don’t help students learn to play or sing.
“One thing you’ll notice about all those programs is that they don’t include sustained teaching,” said Aspen Music Festival and School President and CEO Alan Fletcher. “They’re great enrichment, but if a student is going to learn, that’s got to happen in some other way.”
The Scheidts stepped in to change that, challenging the music school with a donation to fund instruction in elementary and middle schools from Glenwood Springs to Aspen. The goal, Fletcher said, is to match local resources for young people who take part in sports and to help fulfill the mind-body-spirit promise of the “Aspen Idea.”
They include in-school, after-school and summer programs.
The Maroon Bel Canto Children’s Chorus, three years running, brings students from grades four through eight together for an all-valley singing chorus, with smaller choral groups based in valley elementary and middle schools and quarterly concerts in Harris Hall.
The Beginning Strings program began in the 2013-14 school year in six elementary schools from Glenwood to Aspen. Taught by graduates of the music school’s summer program, it includes 20 weeks of instruction on stringed instruments and places students in ensembles and an orchestra, with a performance at Harris Hall at the end of the school year.
Playing the premier concert hall, which hosts distinguished musicians all summer, has a profound effect on both students and parents, Fletcher said.
“I go to these things, and people come up to me with tears in their eyes,” he said.
A new classical-guitar program also began this school year in middle schools in Glenwood, Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen. It’s run with a curriculum designed by master guitarist Brad Richter, teaching students to read music and play. It places public school teachers in the lessons alongside students, learning together over a stretch of 40 classes.
The donor-supported programs allow students to rent instruments for a nominal monthly fee or buy them at a discount, with tuition ranging from $150 to $200 — and with scholarships and free instruments available to students in need.
“The tuition doesn’t really even cover 40 weeks of snacks,” Fletcher said, “but we want to keep it affordable.”