Nonprofit organizations that share similar missions can find greater efficiencies and impact more people when they partner, sometimes even reaching new audiences and delivering new services in the process. That’s what’s happened with the partnership between the Omaha Conservatory of Music and the Salvation Army Kroc Center that’s expanding music education and performance opportunities for youth thanks to agency one lending its expert instructors to students at agency two. My Metro Magazine story about this collaboration follows.
Salvation Army Kroc Center and Omaha Conservatory of Music Partner to Give Kids New Opportunities
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in Metro Magazine
A perfect fit
Last fall a meant-to-be match became reality when the Omaha Conservatory of Music began offering music classes at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in South Omaha. OCM provides top-notch instructors and instruments and the Kroc eager students and first-rate facilities.
OCM’s been looking to do more outreach with underserved populations and the Kroc Center’s been seeking to expand its music offerings. So why not bring the Conservatory’s resources to the Kroc?
“It was kind of a perfect fit because the Salvation Army needed a music piece to offer the community and the Omaha Conservatory of Music had expertise in that.
It made sense,” says Mike Cassling, a Kroc advisory board member who brokered this marriage with OCM board member Betiana Simon. The pair got the two organizations talking and before long a full-fledged program was designed and launched for youth ages 3 to 18. Cassling, CEO of Cequence Health Group, helped fund the program.
“We didn’t have the instructors in house for the music, and music is something the Army loves, so it seemed like it would be a good fit if they could provide instructors and we could provide students,” says Major Catherine Thielke, the Kroc’s officer for program development.
The classes are free to Kroc Center members and $10 for nonmembers.
“Parents are loving the fact this is available to their children and that it’s not breaking their pocket,” says Kroc Center arts and education manager Gina Ponce, who adds that music is a vital part of Hispanic culture and having affordable classes right in heart of the community is a welcome addition.
OCM executive director Ruth Meints says there’s good congruence between the center’s community focus and the conservatory’s mission of building artistic community through education and performance.
Thielke agrees, saying, “The Salvation Army’s mission and purpose here at the Kroc Center is to inspire people to discover their God-given talents and to develop those talents. We saw that the Conservatory was helping kids start very young in finding their giftedness in music.”
Music adds enrichment
“I’m a huge proponent that the arts, which music is a part of, are a wonderful way to increase self-esteem, well-being and self-worth,” says Kroc arts and education coordinator Felicia Webster. “The classes are just perfect to introduce young people to music and to help them feel good about themselves.”
Where the Salvation Army has a long tradition of brass band music, it’s lacked much in the way of woods and strings.
“We’re about finding out what children’s spark is, and that expands much broader than a brass band and into the strings and other types of instruments,” says Thielke. “We’re just very excited to be partnering with the Conservatory and we’re really glad Mike and Betiana saw what benefit this would have to both groups.”
“They’re very visionary people who helped it become a reality,” adds OCM’s Meints.
Classes strike a chord and fill gap in music education
The classes have proven more popular than anyone imagined. Ever since the first round began in early September sessions have filled, new spots have been created and waiting lists have formed.
Meints says there’s been “overwhelming response” and she adds “it’s great to see so many people get involved right away.” She expects enrollment for the next round of classes in January to increase.
In January a new guitar class will complement the brass, cello/bass, percussion, violin/viola, woodwinds and voice beat-boxing classes.
“In the Hispanic community the instruments that are very prominent for mariachi are violin, trumpet and guitar and so that will be a very neat addition,” says Meints.
More classes may be in the offing.
At the conclusion of each six-week class a concert’s held featuring student performers from both organizations. The first concert, on Oct. 27, was packed.
Meints says the individualized instruction offered youth helps them grow faster musically. Some Kroc students are already showing great potential and may be eligible for OCM scholarships, according the Meints, who’s excited about nurturing this previously untapped talent.
Officials with both organizations say the classes for very young children fill a vital need because music education doesn’t start until middle school. Studies show getting kids started early in music can improve cognitive development and academic performance, says Meints. She and Thielke emphasize that the Sprouts class promotes family interaction by requiring parental-guardian participation.
For details and to register, visit http://www.omahakroc.org or call 402-905-3579.
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An arts organization with a great reputation for quality that deserves more recognition and support is the Omaha Conservatory of Music. The following story previewed a recent concert by the conservatory celebrating music of the Omaha Nation that brought students from area high schools together with students from St. Augustine Mission School on the Winnebago Reservation and Omaha Indian elders.
Indigenous Music Celebrated in Omaha Conservatory of Music Nebraska Roots Concert
©by Leo Adam Biga
Published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
Indigenous themes take center stage for a March 24 Omaha Conservatory of Music concert that culminates the school’s Nebraska Roots: Native American Music of the Omaha Indian Tribe curriculum. The program is also the conservatory’s annual Winter Festival Orchestra showcase.
Various ensembles featuring conservatory students and youth players from schools near and far will perform along with Omaha Indian tribal elders and students from St. Augustine Mission School on the Winnebago (Neb.) Reservation. Premiering are two pieces for orchestral strings written by OCM faculty member Danny Sarba that he adapted from Native tunes. One is the “Flag Song.” The other is “The Appreciation Song.”
A featured presentation is the Winter Festival Orchestra performing a movement from the OCM-commissioned and Pulitzer Prize and Grawemeyer Award nominated “La pert de la Terre” by noted violinist and composer Maria Newman. A member of a Hollywood dynasty of film composers, she drew on Native peace pipe melodies for her new work.
“She’s a stunning composer and she’s credited a pretty stunning work,” says OCM executive director Ruth Meints.
Guest conductor is David Barg, whom Meints describes as “an internationally known conductor” with “unorthodox methods” for getting the best out of young players.
The 7 p.m. program at Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Concert Hall is free and open to the public.
Meints says the diverse concert expresses the nonprofit’s mission to build artistic communities through education and performance. “We’re always trying to do collaborative things that build community,” she says. “It should be a pretty full program. It’s kind of like all worlds are colliding.”
The concert caps a year’s exploration of “the first music of Nebraska.” Tribal elders Calvin Harlan and Pierre Merrick came to the conservatory, located in new digs at the Westside Community Center, to demonstrate the traditional way Omaha Indian music is performed. It’s all part of OCM’s effort to archive the music. A drum circle led by Harlan and Merrick was recorded at the OCM studio. The March concert will also be professionally recorded. CDs containing the recordings will eventually be produced with a book of the transcribed music.
The idea to study, perform and record indigenous music has its roots in a 1893 book that Meints, a music educator, stumbled upon years ago. A Study of Omaha Indian Music by ethno-musicologist Alice Fletcher is a compilation of Omaha Indian chants and ceremonial music she recorded and transcribed. With Omaha Indian music a largely oral tradition and few Native speakers left, Meints thought the time right to celebrate and perpetuate traditional Native material and make it the focus of cross-cultural exchange.
She says elders have shared with students stories about the meanings behind the songs and students have performed for them selections from the new compositions by Sarba. Sarba spent time on the res and in Omaha recording-transcribing the elders’ music much as Fletcher did more than a century ago.
Conservatory teacher Cody Jorgensen is doing an outreach program with St. Augustine Mission students, including 2nd and 4th graders coming to sing for the concert.
Newman, a guest artist at the OCM summer institute, responded strongly when Meints asked her to conceive a piece echoing Native sounds. Her “La perte de la Terra” premiered at last year’s institute and has since been performed widely across the U.S.. Fletcher’s book became Newman’s inspiration. “I found that absolutely fascinating,” she says. “Just as Bela Bartok did with Romanian and Hungarian folk music and all the vernacular music of those peoples, Alice Fletcher did with Omaha Indian Nation music. Our country has for so many years been obsessed with European music, so I think what she did was really significant.”
Until working on the commission Newman says her exposure to Indian music was “in a cliche manner” informed by her own family’s Hollywood pedigree.
“We here in Hollywood have often been bombarded with real cliches of cowboys and Indians and that sort of thing, and so I was petrified to tell you the truth when I received this commission that I was going to offend somehow with my composition. I had not studied Indian music to the extent that I could understand what was going on with the small variations in tonality, intonation, musical contour. All of those things became so much more apparent when I began to study the Alice Fletcher book.
“I really worked hard to try to figure out how to use the pentatonic or five-note scale used by the Indian nations. I didn’t want to take one of those chants Alice Fletcher had on paper and arrange it. What I wanted to do was write something completely original. I was desperately trying to run away from cliche. I sought to create something that was somehow infused rhythmically and harmonically with the essence of those materials.”
Newman says “La perte de la Terra” translates literally as “A Part of the Earth” but that to French Indians it means “Lost Pieces of the Earth,” which expresses more closely what she means to evoke.
“I have a really great respect for our Native American cultures. A lot of blood was given by the Native American people in the white man taking over this continent. The blood they shed went into what made our country. Things like the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Louisiana Purchase also formed the country. These lost pieces of the earth came together as a puzzle and connected so that we could now hopefully join our nations and become one great nation.”
For more on the conservatory, visit http://www.omahacm.org.
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