The Eastman School of Music “Music for All” program, a unique program designed to bring classical music into the community, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. More than 50 chamber groups are participating in over 100 performances throughout Rochester.

The program, which requires students to give two community performances, tries to help students develop the skills necessary to teach music to a variety of audiences, pulling their audiences in as concert-goers for life.

Though the idea for Eastman student community performances was first formulated in 1985, the first test run for such a program didn’t happen until 10 years later. In a primitive attempt, four chamber ensembles were given a phone book and told to find two places in the community to play.

Even without a network of contacts and a chamber music administration to help out, these students were successful and thus “Music for All” became a reality, with a full-fledged chamber music department.

One major addition to the program in the past two years has been Assistant Professor of chamber music Elinor Freer. Freer has been committed to broadening the number of schools reached by chamber music ensembles, and has tried to aim the program at young audiences since she believes that it is more difficult for students to play for kids and peers.

Eastman’s “Music for All” program is the first music school to incorporate community performance into the curriculum and has caught the attention of other major conservatories.

“I’ve been contacted by Peabody Conservatory, New England Conservatory and the University of Michigan,” Freer said. “If every school in the country had a program like ‘Music for All,’ it would be great.”

The Juilliard School in New York City is the only other school to have a program like Eastman’s. At Juilliard, community outreach is a non-required class available to students. Their performances count as professional gigs, and they get paid for their service.

Freer believes that “Music for All” involves more instruction on engaging the community. Student performances in the “Music for All” program are an important learning experience about approaching community audiences and hence should be a requirement.

She also believes in the urgency of such a program. Freer is concerned with the crisis developing in the music world of dwindling audiences.

“The main idea of ‘Music for All’ is a small way in which Eastman can train our students to do something about the crisis,” Freer said. “We are creating a demand for classical music. Otherwise, Eastman will turn out hundreds of graduates who play really well, but who don’t have any audience.”

“Music for All” has not only had a great effect on the community, but has also given students unique experiences that help their chamber groups bond.

Junior Caroline Bean’s piano trio was given a challenging opportunity to play for mentally and physically handicapped young adults. “For kids that are mentally and physically handicapped, they like to get involved,” Bean said. “When we were trying to get them to understand tempo, we would have them clap along with what we were doing. [When] we would try to get them to understand dynamics, we had them raise their hands for loud. It’s good for the groups to be challenged with something that isn’t your everyday rehearsal/performance for teachers and friends. And you get to know your group members’ strengths and weaknesses.”

Over spring break, Bean received a phone call from an elementary school in her area who wanted her to give a presentation about classical music. Where most music students would have approached speaking and playing classical music for young kids with an air of fear, Bean was able to confidently walk on stage to a school full of elementary-aged children and inspire her young audience using music.

“It would have been very intimidating had it not been for my ‘Music for All’ experience,” Bean said.

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