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Conservatory Grows in West Concord

Community music school thriving as 6th year begins.

It was in 2004 when Kate Yoder's son's piano teacher said it would be a great thing if Concord had a community music school.

Yoder, a 13-year Concord resident with a MBA degree and a "passion for nonprofits" took the brief suggestion and ran with it. She founded the Concord Conservatory of Music in classrooms at the West Concord Union Church.

Now, five years later, the school is expanding its offerings and worked with the church to create a wing with sound-proof walls and ceilings so that classes are held in dedicated music rooms, not Sunday School spaces.

Yoder reflects with pride in her achievement: a popular community school that offers classes for babies as young as six months to adults in voice and instruments ranging from piano, violin and, this year, percussion.

Yoder worked for a few years after getting her MBA in corporate marketing, but wanted something nonprofit in which to use her skills. She brought the Pumpkin Festival to the Concord-Carlisle Community Chest, and started the Chest's triathlon during her time on the board there.

Now she is moving into her own tiny office space so she can grow the music school. She has assembled an august array of teachers, many accomplished musicians from the Boston area, and almost 300 students of all ages that flock into the second floor of the church for lessons six days a week.

"It is more than I thought it would be," said Yoder this week. "We are on a terrific trajectory."

The conservatory started with small group classes in classical instruments, and added slowly to the curriculum, Yoder said.

"We brought a different focus with new faulty members," she said. "We brought the community in." She added a class for the youngest children in music and movement with instructors fron the Longy Music School in Boston.

The Conservatory has age-based instrumental and voice lessons, both private and in groups. There are frequent recitals too, so the enormity of performing once a year, as is traditional in most music schools, is lessened. Yoder said recitals are held in the sanctuary on Main Street.

"It's good for student and parent to have more frequent recitals so the students get used to performing," she said. When a teacher feels a piece is ready, a small recital will be organized.

Last year, the Conservatory debuted the "musicians tool box" which is a hands-on class in jazz technique, theory and composition.

"They learn the language of music by teachers that love teaching it," said Yoder.

Jazz was introduced last year. Yoder added slowly, first piao, violin, cello and voice, then flute, keyboard and group voice, now jazz and percussion.

"Our space was constrained until last year," she said, when the church remodeled its second floor for its only tenant, the Concord Conservatory.

Yoder said the school started with four rooms, and after three years, she and the board realized they had outgrown their space and were going to move if the church hadn't offered to renovate.

Now there are six rooms and an office, all with sound-proofing and many with air conditioning.

"We couldn't have expanded without this," said Yoder. "Four instructors teach at the same time, so it would have been impossible without the new spaces."

"It was a big year last year," she said. "I bought more pianos." She buys the "workhorse" Yamaha model, an upright with superior sound.

There are faculty concerts and a junior orchestra as well as individual recitals.

"This is truly a community music school," she said. The Conservatory maintains its nonprofit status with Yoder as president of the board, but she is working to exit that role as her duties have expanded.

The Conservatory raises funds at parties every January, and provides scholarships to students that cannot afford the tuition. There are 21 faculty members for the 300 students that come from over 15 towns around Concord. She said half the students are in Concord.

In addition to the fundraising party in January, there is a performathon in March. The annual fundraising has brought in about $12,000, Yoder said.

"It wasn't easy in the beginning to get the faculty we wanted," said Yoder.

She said a master class has been added this year, and there will be workshops in the spring. Different ages and instruments combine for the recitals, so that students get to see all ages and instruments performing. It takes the anxiety out of a solo recital, she said.

Next week, Yoder said there will be free trial classes so that students can try out a lesson or instrument before signing up. Classes are also rolling, she said, with students entering within the first few weeks.

"I am very proud of this, I can finally say," said Yoder. The Conservatory is part of the national Guild of Community Arts Schools and she is head of the Northeast Chapter of New England music Schools.

For more information, go to www.concordconservatory.org or call 978 369-0010.

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