.Community Music School Keeps Melodies Alive

Santa Cruz Gives’ music-minded organizations seek funding so they can continue to bring sweet sounds to the community

For the past 30 years, Community Music School (CMS) has been providing music education and enrichment opportunities for artists across Santa Cruz County.

CMS was created by Shelley Phillips as a direct response to the defunding of public-school music programs that started in the 1990s. At first a two-week summer music camp for children, the organization has expanded over the years to also include programs for teenagers and adults. It now hosts an annual Harp Festival and offers resources to connect music students and teachers.

“A lot of students have to play by themselves,” says Susan Willats, who has been at the helm of CMS for the past four years. “They practice at home by themselves, or with a teacher. Our niche is that they can come and play in groups, and get to understand how it is to play in an ensemble.”

This year, CMS is joining a number of other local nonprofits for Santa Cruz Gives (SCG), GT’s annual digital giving campaign. Each participating nonprofit is given a section of the SCG website where they explain what they do and the project they want to fund—their “Big Idea” for the future. People can donate directly from the website to the nonprofits of their choice.

“It’s our first year with Santa Cruz Gives,” Willats says. “We’ve very excited. We are a very small nonprofit. It’s just me, 10 hours a week, and a Board. One of the benefits of being involved with this campaign is that a lot more people will learn about us and what we do.”

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Willats calls the recent passing of California Proposition 28, which funds school-based arts and music education throughout the state, “a game-changer.” However, the funding still has a limit, she says, which is why organizations like CMS are eager to keep up and running.

“Right now, even if schools have music it’s usually only 45 minutes once a week,” she says. “That’s not enough to learn an instrument. We recognize that our programs are mainly for those who already know instruments. But there are a lot of kids who don’t have that. Our ‘Big Idea’ is to fund beginning music classes in underserved neighborhoods.”

CMS has already launched a pilot program in partnership with Community Bridges, which offers music instruction after school. They hope to expand the program in 2023.

“It’s a small program, but with a deep impact,” she says. “With it, we are trying to help balance the distribution of music wealth and resources throughout the county.”

While it is CMS’s first year with SCG, another nonprofit has been part of the campaign since it launched in 2015: Senderos, an arts and culture group aiming to create successful pathways for the Latino community of Santa Cruz County.

At Senderos, Latino culture and history are taught and celebrated through dance and music classes, with public performances held throughout the year. The organization also offers tutoring, scholarships and more.

“We strongly believe in what we’re doing,” says Fe Silva-Robles, Senderos co-founder and program director. “This is important work, especially now after the pandemic. Our community was impacted by Covid in a serious way. So we are very happy now to come back, to once again be performing in our community.”

Silva-Robles says the organization’s “Big Idea” this year is to secure funding for its free dance, music and tutoring programs. The group is also preparing for 2023 events, including its annual Vive Oaxaca Guelaguetza, an authentic cultural festival with food, music, dance, music and crafts. The event is scheduled to return April 16 at San Lorenzo Park.

“We are grateful for Good Times to continue to give us the opportunity to raise money through Santa Cruz Gives,” Silva-Robles says. “We’re a small nonprofit, run by volunteers. It’s really made an impact being part of this.”

Meanwhile, El Sistema aims to foster positive child development and promote social change by expanding access to high-quality music instruction, free of charge, to students from historically excluded communities in Santa Cruz County. They hope to grow their Watsonville Youth Symphony, launched in March 2022. With students graduating from its pre-orchestra program with the skills and qualifications required to perform in an orchestra, El Sistema started a youth symphony that reflects the full diversity of the community.

Another music-oriented Gives project is from Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos, which is looking to increase funding for its Audio and Visual Engineering program. The group needs to upgrade its music studio, purchase updated computers, mixing boards and cameras. In the longer term, they would like to expand and offer this education to our local community.

To donate to these groups, or see a full list of participating nonprofits, visit santacruzgives.org.

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