An old Boyle Heights Victorian showcases young musicians

Photo courtesy Neighborhood Music School

By Becky Koppenhaver

The Neighborhood Music School has been a mecca for the musically inclined youth of the Boyle Heights area for almost 100 years. Founded in 1914 and housed in a restored 1890’s Victorian near the corner of Fourth Street and Boyle Avenue, the school offers low-cost tuition for private and group lessons on piano, bass, violin, cello, and woodwinds, percussion, choir and voice by top-notch professional musicians. Beginning this fall, the school’s old Victorian will echo with the sounds of more contemporary music as new lessons in electronic keyboard and guitar are added to the instruction schedule.

“It’s a special place, there is something about this old Victorian—people like coming here, and we make a concerted effort to reach out to the community,” said School Administrator Wendy Kirkkert.

The school has a long history of helping those in need achieve their musical aspirations says Bernard Leon, 19, who has studied piano and violin at the non-profit Neighborhood Music School since he was four years-old and now works as the office manager. Originally located a few miles away on Mozart Street in Lincoln Heights until 1947, Neighborhood Music School was founded as a settlement house for Russian-Jewish Immigrants who wanted to learn English and music. The school now serves the primarily low-income, Latino community of Boyle Heights, although some students come from as far away as Monterey Park, according to Leon.

In addition to it’s low-cost music classes, the school offers scholarships based on need and merit to 30 of the approximately 250 enrolled students. Otherwise, lessons are $16 per half hour and group lessons are $75 per 12 weeks of one-hour classes.

Leon, who now studies political science at Glendale College, says Neighborhood Music School stands out not only because of its long history, but also because of the quality teachers the school has always had. “Our teachers are not just great professionals, they are also gifted music teachers. Just because a person is a good musician, doesn’t mean they can teach music, our teachers are educators,” he adds.  Many of the music teachers at the Neighborhood School also teach at Cal Arts, USC, and the Cleveland School.

Leon says that most students appreciate and respond to the schools efforts to promote a homey, warm, environment that students of all ages, and teachers feel comfortable in and feel like a part of a larger family. Kirkkert, the school adminstrator,  agrees, “It’s a special place, there is something about this old Victorian—people like coming here, and we make a concerted effort to reach out to the community.”  Kirkkert says that requests from the community have prompted the school to add group lessons in electronic keyboard and guitar that have a more popular music focus. Those classes will begin in the fall of 2011.

On August 27th, students will showcase their talents at a summer recital in the backyard of the school. Also in the line up is a rock band that goes by the name of  “The Rock Band.” Showtime is from 6 p.m. -8 p.m.. For more information check out their website.

Becky Koppenhaver is a freelance writer covering schools. You can send Becky story tips and ideas at becky@theEastsiderLA.com

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