In 2010, when some other arts nonprofits were shutting their doors or scrambling to keep them open, Cascade School of Music took the chance of signing a lease and moving into its own home. At the time, the school served just 200 students.
Today, the student population has more than doubled, to 500 students.
“The whole business model that we concocted to justify leasing this building was, ‘In a couple of years, we should have a good number of students. Maybe in five years we’ll be looking at being full,’” said Dillon Schneider, founder and executive director of the school.
“We were kind of banking (on), ‘This had better work. This has gotta work,’ not really knowing how it was going to turn out,” he said. “The way it’s turned out, we’re a year, year and a half ahead of that (being full),” he said.
Back in a May 2002 Bulletin article, musician and music educator Schneider posed the question, “How many people would play football if they had to practice by themselves every day, got to see their coach for half an hour once a week? If they had to suit up, put on the pads, run around the field, tackle dummies by themselves and maybe get to play in a game once a year?”
Schneider asked the question rhetorically to illustrate the problem of new musicians practicing their instruments, often in seclusion.
As a jazz guitar instructor, Schneider developed a practice of overlapping his individual lessons so he could teach two students concurrently.
“People had such a gas playing with each other,” Schneider said, that he was inspired to launch Cascade Community School of Music, where budding musicians could learn in a social environment. The school held its first classes in a borrowed space on O.B. Riley Road in July 2002.
The word “Community” has dropped from the name since the school’s early days, but its community-minded premise hasn’t changed.
“Our whole program model is to get people started with group classes, just because they’re more social and they’re more engaging and there can just be a little more fun,” Schneider said earlier this month, sitting in his small office at the front of Cascades School of Music’s building, located on the banks of the Deschutes River at 200 NW Pacific Park Lane, near downtown Bend.
“A big part of the draw about moving here is that we’d finally be able to offer individual lessons,” Schneider said, the philosophy being to start young and adult students with group classes, and then move them on to individualized instruction.
“Once you get them in the door and get them going … it makes sense for them to transition into individual lessons,” he said. Musicians young and old can now take private lessons in piano, voice, guitar, bass, violin, viola, cello, saxophone, flute, drums, harp, trombone, clarinet, tuba, euphonium and trumpet. The school offers early childhood music instruction and a plan called The Musician’s Path that leads a beginner toward private lessons and participation in an ensemble.
Two of the school’s students, Elizabeth White and Parker Lasala, won scholarships to CSM this year. Rotary Club of Bend awarded White $1,000 through the Del Morris Memorial Piano Scholarship, and Lasala won a $600 scholarship from the Sunriver Music Festival’s Young Artists Scholarship Program.
Nina Lawler, 13, took her first group class about three years ago. From there, she began taking private lessons at the school, said her father, Bill Lawler. A keyboardist and bass player, he used to play in a Chicago blues-rock band that “got close, but no cigar” to greater success.
“I’m living vicariously through my daughter. She’s got a good ear,” he said. “We try to get together in the living room and jam to different iTunes (songs). I get on bass and try not to screw everything up,” he added, laughing.
Lawler added that his daughter has taken part in the school’s annual recital, Crescendo Bendo. “She certainly enjoys performing,” he said. Held each spring at the Tower Theatre in Bend, the recital is a daylong affair that, this year, had to be scaled back after the event took 10 hours to stage in 2013. Still, even having just the most advanced students and ensembles perform at the May 31 Crescendo Bendo took six hours.
The growth of that event, and the need to curtail the number of participants, points to the school’s growth.
In 2010-11, when the school moved into its home, its operating budget was $225,000. For the 2014-15 fiscal year, it’s $525,000, Schneider said. “Most of that is due to the growth in enrollment.”
In fact, Schneider has at times surrendered his office for private lessons when the school’s music rooms are full. “We are bursting at the seams,” he said.
“We have more students and more great faculty than we can fit into our building, and we’re starting to look for an annex of some kind,” he said.
Schneider concedes that a busy facility is a good problem to have — or at least people tell him that — but he finds it off-putting to have to put people on waiting lists. This fall, to help ease the crowding, some individual lessons will be held in the early morning, before school hours. “Because the after-school hours are just completely packed,” he said.
Schneider attributes the growth to word of mouth, but also the presence in the community that a physical building of its own provides. The faculty is consistently high quality, each teacher thoroughly vetted and given background checks, Schneider said.
One growth spurt came about three years ago, when CSM took on an after-school orchestra program that, previously, had been operated by the Central Oregon Symphony Association. The Awesome After-School Orchestra convenes at Bear Creek Elementary, and this fall, a second orchestra program will begin meeting at Elk Meadow Elementary.
Three years ago, the school launched its own after-school band program, which meets at Miller Elementary School.
Filling the gaps
“The Cascade School of Music has done a great job in bringing high-quality music instruction to young people, as one would expect. But there has also been a deliberate focus on adult learning that has nicely filled a gap in our community, and for this I am most grateful,” said Michael Gesme, conductor and artistic director of the Central Oregon Symphony.
“In general, music is a social medium, and it is intended to be done with, and for, others. Specifically with ensemble work, the CSM has created many opportunities for adults who are relative newcomers, or those who are returning to an instrument after a significant hiatus, to play in a group with individuals who are at a similar skill level,” Gesme said. “For years, the only large string ensemble available for adults was the Central Oregon Symphony, but beginning and intermediate musicians are not equipped to play that repertoire. Classes for adult beginners as well as groups like the Desert Sage String Orchestra and the High Noon Brass Band are an integral part the holistic music education that CSM provides and have established themselves as an integral part of the musical community of Central Oregon.”
Strings instructor Michael Scott has been with CSM since the first summer class in 2002. He teaches kids and adults, both in private lessons and small groups.
Scott taught music in Bend public schools for much of his career. “When I first started teaching in schools, the orchestra program started in fifth grade. Budget cuts have reduced that, and they don’t have band, choir or orchestra until sixth grade. (There’s) nothing for elementary kids, so this is an opportunity for kids in groups as small as four and five to experience an instrument at an early stage.”
Scott notes that experiencing instruments at an early age is “not necessarily something that they have to really become proficient at, but explore and see if this is the one they want to do, and if it isn’t, they can try something else.”
For those young musicians who’ve had a few years of music instruction, there are other organizations in town focusing on development, including High Desert Chamber Music, Central Oregon Youth Orchestra and Cascades Rock Ensemble.
Amy Goeser Kolb, the founder of Central Oregon Youth Orchestra, said this past year saw students from Cascade School of Music’s after-school orchestra — which has performed twice at Central Oregon Youth Orchestra concerts — continue making music with the auditioned ensemble, which also has a junior symphony for players with at least two years of experience.
“CSM has great resources to provide incredible beginnings and foundation for young learners, pre-sixth grade,” Kolb said. “The Cascade School, from the moment you walk in the door, is inviting, friendly and always eager to find the best fit for young kids. I have experienced this with my own eyes and ears at CSM.”
Click around the school’s website (ccschoolofmusic.org, where the fall schedule is posted) and you’ll see this little mantra: “We are building life-long, well-rounded musicians who make music because it is a joyous, uplifting, satisfying pursuit.”
That’s an approach parents such as Bill Lawler appreciate.
Of his daughter Nina’s participation at the school, Lawler said, “I wanted her to see what it’s like to be in a band and create music with others, and she’s getting that with Cascade School of Music. It’s a really great opportunity for her.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0349, firstname.lastname@example.org