Traverse City News and Events

Traverse Symphony Orchestra Announces Launch of Community Music School

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 8, 2023

The Traverse Symphony Orchestra is launching a new Community Music School in the Cherryland Center, the organization announced Monday – a venture that will serve students of all ages, from infants to seniors, in the five-county region with a variety of musical classes and programming and the launch of a Youth Orchestra and Senior Band. The new school is being funded by over $1.5 million in private donations and grants, including a $500,000 gift from Diana and Richard Milock – the largest donation in TSO history.

TSO announced the new school at a fundraising event Monday at the Park Place Hotel. The TSO board unanimously approved a proposal in March to lease vacant space in the former Kmart building from the Traverse City Curling Center and build out a new facility, contingent on the ability to raise at least $1.25 million in donations to avoid taking on debt for the project. The facility will not only house the school but serve as the new headquarters of TSO, which will relocate to the Cherryland Center from Radio Centre. Staff have been working behind the scenes the last several months on a “silent campaign” to raise $2 million in funds for the full project buildout following the board vote.

As of Monday, TSO was three-quarters of the way toward its goal – raising over $1.5 million in donations including a $500,000 gift from Diana and Richard Milock, an anonymous $250,000 donation, and four $100,000 gifts from Al and Susan Cogswell, Jim Taup, John and Nancy Morris, and Michael and Rhonda Estes. At least two dozen people contributed $10,000 or more, according to TSO, with all 21 board members also making gifts. The orchestra also received three grants, including $50,000 from Rotary Charities, $25,000 from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, and $15,000 from the Oleson Foundation.

The fundraising campaign now enters its public phase to close the remaining $500,000 gap. However, enough money has been raised to allow TSO to begin a buildout on the new facility this fall – with a design guided by Cornerstone Architects and Acoustics by Design – with the goal of hosting a grand opening in early 2024. The facility will offer a 4,800-square-foot rehearsal hall and recital venue, teaching studios, office and conference rooms, green rooms, lobby, and box office.

“This school will build upon the current educational offerings of the TSO to include our Civic Orchestra and Chamber Ensembles, online classes, family concerts, Suzuki music classes, Masterworks in Miniature, Tots@TADL, and TSO in the Schools,” TSO wrote in project documents. Encore Winds, a local nonprofit group, is also coming under the TSO umbrella, the organization announced Monday. TSO plans to introduce new parent and baby classes, private music lessons, and a Senior Band – which will focus on offering beginning lessons and ensemble performances for seniors and retirees – as well as a Youth Orchestra.

According to project documents, the school will bring TSO programs “together under one administrative structure and allow for extensive additional programming to enhance our five-county community.” The project has been developed in “close collaboration with the TCAPS (Traverse City Area Public Schools) music administration,” according to TSO, which added: “None of the programs of the Community Music School will duplicate the outstanding work being done in our public school system. Rather, by working with TCAPS leadership we have identified opportunities for new programming that will enhance the entire music education offerings in our community.”

TSO also said it’s committed to making the facility accessible to all backgrounds and income levels, noting that “for many families, the cost of purchasing or renting an instrument, as well as the private instruction so key to a child’s musical development, represents a significant expense.” The organization plans to “offer significant scholarships to make sure that the TSO Community Music School programs are accessible to all students in our community,” documents state.

TSO hints that additional future expansion is possible. Renderings show adjacent space in the Cherryland Center into which TSO could further develop, and project documents indicate the Community Music School could someday provide branches in surrounding communities. “We envision providing private lessons in Leland, Frankfort, Kalkaska, and Antrim County as satellites of the school in the coming years,” documents state.

While the new facility will not be large enough to house the full TSO orchestra – which will still perform at community venues like Corson Auditorium, the City Opera House, Lars Hockstad Auditorium, and the Cathedral Barn – the orchestra will be able to use the space for rehearsals, smaller series, and events and receptions (the facility will have an on-site kitchen).

As with the launch of its series of free public summer concerts at Rotary Square in downtown Traverse City this summer, TSO sees the new school as crucial to engaging the next generation of orchestra supporters and participants. Calling the school “the next giant leap for the TSO,” Executive Director Dr. Kedrik Merwin noted that most orchestra supporters experienced a “spark” at some point in their lives that ignited their love for music, whether that be participating in school bands or orchestras or taking music lessons or attending a concert. “That spark grew into a lifelong passion for music that led you to the symphony,” Merwin said. TSO’s goal now is to “ignite that spark and music passion for the next generation and....kindle that flame for everyone in our community,” Merwin said.

Photo credit: Cornerstone Architects

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