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Changing a life trajectory: Community Music School provides powerful benefits of music education ::


For more than two decades, Melanie Doerner has worked as an arts leader and fundraiser in the performing arts. It’s a career that began when Doerner was a young corporate lawyer in Toronto after she met her husband, Michael, then a dancer with the National Ballet of Canada.

“I fell in love with the arts, literally and figuratively,” she tells me. “As a powerful advocate for the arts, I have been working to support arts organizations and artists ever since.”

The couple moved to Raleigh from San Jose, Calif., in 2010, drawn by the economy, more affordable housing, good public schools and robust arts community. For the last decade, Doerner worked as development director for the North Carolina Theatre. And in March, she went in a new direction, becoming executive director of Raleigh’s long-running Community Music School, which provides affordable music lessons to kids in need. “I am so inspired to be part of this organization that empowers young people through music,” she shares.

Doerner lives in north Raleigh with her husband and their three children. I checked in with her to learn more about the Community Music School and the work it does. Here’s a Q&A.

Go Ask Mom: What’s the history of the Community Music School? Why did it get started?

Melanie Doerner: Community Music School was founded in 1994 by former Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary Cates. Her vision was to remove the financial barriers to high quality music education, so that all young people had access to the life-changing benefits of a music education. Imagine a city where every student who had a passion for music, could learn to play an instrument. For over 25 years, Community Music School has been committed to that work in Raleigh.

GAM: Tell us about the program. Who does it serve, and how do you do that?

MD: Community Music School is about access to high quality music instruction. We provide one-on-one private instruction to students — music lessons for piano, violin, guitar, drums, cello and harp to name a few. Our faculty, who are all paid artists and educators, have doctorates in music, masters in education, four languages spoken, and earn a living as professional musicians.

Because Community Music School is about access to that high quality music instruction, we charge $1 per lesson, which is $32 for a school year of weekly music lessons. And we provide all of the instruments, all of the violins, the keyboards, the cellos, the guitars, and other instruments, and we cover the costs of maintenance and repairs. Our students are exclusively those who are traditionally underserved, and all of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

GAM: How did COVID change everything for the school? And how did it respond?

MD: COVID did not change our programming, but it did switch our delivery as instructors pivoted to teaching virtually. Community Music School is proud to have maintained continuous uninterrupted programming during the pandemic. For more than a year, music lessons have continued on Zoom. And we were the Zoom the students were looking forward to, being able to see their music teachers. This is the one time they turned their cameras on because this was their creative time. Our staff did a lot of instrument deliveries in parking lots. We had meet-ups for violin tunings. We delivered strings and coordinated instrument repairs.

And now, we are working to safely bring our students and teachers back together. On May 16, we held our spring recitals, graciously hosted by the North Carolina Museum of Art at their outdoor amphitheater. This was the first time in over a year that students were able to see their teachers in person and perform for their families from a stage. Looking ahead, we are excited to resume in person instruction in the fall. We are open for enrollment and accepting new students for the 2021-2022 school year.

GAM: How can music education really transform a child’s outlook, even if they don’t plan on becoming a professional musician some day?

MD: The benefits of a music education are powerful and life-changing. I know first-hand that arts education can change a life trajectory. Every time I’ve seen a young person take a bow, they’ve come up a little taller.

The studies make clear the benefits are for all students, not just those who aspire to be professional musicians:

GAM: What are the school’s biggest needs, and how can people help?

MD: Community Music School is growing and accepting new students if your readers know any young people interested in learning to play a musical instrument. We charge only $1 per music lesson or $32 for the year and provide the instruments. Students must be eligible for free and reduced Lunch. More information is available online at

It costs approximately $1,700 to provide professional music instruction for one student for a year, and we only charge $1 per lesson. That means our financial model operates on donations from individuals and through grants. People can help by making a donation at

Lastly, I invite your readers to celebrate with us by join our upcoming Virtual Celebration & Musical Event at 2 p.m., May 26. There is no charge to attend this virtual event, and the event features performances from Tift Merritt and special musical guests.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.

This content was originally published here.

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