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Holiday Magazine: CCSM shares the sound of music

The Claremont Community School of Music (CCSM) has come a long way since offering music lessons out of a church basement.

More than 40 years since those classes began, the not-for-profit organization has expanded from 4 founders to include dozens of teachers and more than 450 students, from young children to senior citizens. The number of aspiring Beethovens and Mozarts continues to soar each year.

While the grassroots music school has grown in space and numbers—thanks to the dedication of its staff and the leadership of Executive Director Bill Huff—the mission to help bring music to the community remains just as meaningful today.

“We want to be able to provide music education to everybody who’s interested, regardless of their ability, talent or financial situation,” said Mr. Huff. “Everyone should have the opportunity to participate.”

Despite cuts to art funding in California’s public school system, CCSM continues to dedicate itself to providing thousands of dollars in scholarships, giving the gift of melody to students with a passion for music but without the funds to pursue it. Fundraisers like the school’s third annual Mayor’s Recital, held last Saturday, allow the school to continue to make students’ dreams a reality. About $12,000 in scholarships has been given out so far this year, a number Mr. Huff hopes will continue to grow as the school year progresses.

“It’s always been about giving people the opportunity to learn about music,” Mr. Huff said. “It’s times like these when we have to help more.”

The school draws its strength in hard times from the dedication of its faculty, many of whom have been with CCSM for years, several since the school’s early days.

“We have gone through rocky stages throughout our 40 years, but we always find our way through it and I think it’s due to the passion of all the teachers that want this to continue,” said CCSM Business Manager Lisa Jorgensen. “It’s important to everybody and I think that’s why we have had the longevity we have had.”

CCSM instructors, many of whom have taught at notable colleges across the country, tout impressive resumes, While master piano teacher Artemis Bedros, who has been teaching at CCSM for nearly 20 years, has molded players at prestigious universities, she has a particular fondness for teaching budding, young musicians at CCSM. Beyond enjoying the receptiveness of her young students, Ms. Bedros says she has remained with CCSM for so long because of the unwavering support she feels from the organization for both her as a teacher and for the music education of her students. The staff’s dedication to helping her students is worthy of recognition, she says.

“[CCSM] is an institution that deserves to be helped by the community because it gives so much back,” she said.

The music school’s now-bustling halls and fruitful giving programs were built from humble beginnings. The Claremont Community School of Music started in the 1960s with a mission of providing musical instruction in the wake of cuts to music education. Though the school had a strong mission, it lacked a place to call home. For decades students went to classes held in their teachers’ homes, at local churches or studios.

In 1987, CCSM finally set up shop in 1200 square feet of space at 951 W. Foothill Boulevard. Though small quarters, it was a significant step for the school, providing a needed home base.

“It brought all of the teaching staff and students together in one place for the first time,” said Business Manager Lisa Jorgensen.

With the help of the community, those small quarters turned into a labyrinth of classrooms, rehearsal spaces and the school’s very own recital hall, built about 2 years ago under the direction of Mr. Huff. The school has taken significant strides since Mr. Huff stepped into the role of executive director nearly 7 years ago, according to Ms. Jorgenson and other administrators.

“He is our reckless Santa Claus,” Ms. Jorgensen said of Mr. Huff’s willingness to go the extra mile for the good of the school.

It’s all to provide the next generation with the same benefit that music provided for him, Mr. Huff said. He credits music with helping him to create a sense of identity. 

“As a young person, music was my passion. It was what made me who I am and it continues to have a wonderful effect on me,” he reflected. “[Music] is a beautiful way of expressing yourself and becoming the person you are meant to be. I enjoy providing that opportunity for other people, to allow others to experience what I experienced.”

Looking to bring the Claremont Community School of Music to new heights, Mr. Huff’s top priorities include maintaining a wide variety of classes for students of all ages and abilities. Mr. Huff and staff look to achieve a step in this overarching goal by incorporating classes through a program called The Miracle Project into the school’s curriculum this coming January. Founded in 2004, The Miracle Project aims to help children with autism and other special needs express themselves through music, dance, performance and movement. The Miracle Project creates a safe environment for self-expression, said Barbara Durost, CCSM master teacher and education administrator, who will help lead CCSM’s newest course.

“We become a part of their world, instead of forcing them to be a part of ours,” Ms. Durost explained. “Of course, there is guidance from a teacher, but it’s just amazing to see the levels these kids can get to on their own.”

Mr. Huff looks forward to strengthening bonds between the school and the community. Whether through exposure provided with its summer concert series, fundraisers or scholarship opportunities, the CCSM family hopes to bring the music that inspired its founding members to the next generation of musicians.

“The root of it all is allowing people the opportunity to fulfill their longing for creativity,” Mr. Huff said. “We want to help feed that desire.”

The Claremont Community School of Music is located at 951 W. Foothill Blvd. Find out more about the school, sign up for a class or make a donation by visiting www.claremontmusic.org.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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