Music, like many forms of art, has the ability to bring everyone together. In an age where technology is shoved into the hands of teens, tweens and toddlers to keep them occupied, the young musicians of the Athens Community Music School (ACMS) instead pick up a guitar and play a tune.
The ACMS, which opened in 1979, began as a program part of Ohio University's College of Fine Arts. By 1983, ACMS had changed its tune, expanding from a few private lessons into a full fledged musical company that was open to all ages.
ACMS currently offers its services to children all across Southeast Ohio and upper West Virginia and regularly performs in events like Hallowpalooza and the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program Assessments.
“In the past, we have put on children’s musicals and had a variety of ensembles through the years,” Wendy Blackwood, director of ACMS, said. “We have expanded our string education options to offer the Cadet Strings program here in Athens and at two satellite locations in Gallipolis and Logan to teach violin, viola, cello and bass to youth. We also coordinate music therapy sessions and offer private lessons for most instruments.”
Blackwood has been the director for the ACMS since 2018 and has taught piano at the school since 2016.
In addition to helping young children learn music, ACMS often employs undergraduate and graduate students to work as student instructors. These student instructors work alongside other integral staff members, who are called “Master Teachers,“ to develop and perfect their skills as music teachers.
“ACMS is super inspirational because it’s a community that supports both the students and the student teachers equally,” Evan McAuley, a graduate student studying music performance pedagogy, said. “ACMS has provided me with numerous opportunities to hone my teaching and receive pedagogical feedback. I have enjoyed working with each of the students, and it’s so encouraging to see them grow as musicians.”
ACMS and the other programs working with the College of Fine Arts reflect on the budding young musicians they train and the college students who work in the program. In participating in the many lessons offered by ACMS, these young musicians are opening themselves to even more opportunities for education, music and future relationships.
“The principle value statement of the College of Fine Arts is that, ‘we believe the arts have the power to transform individual lives and society as a whole,’” Matthew Shaftel, dean of the College of Fine Arts, said in an email. “We connect our CoFA students with an opportunity to teach and to help create a transformational opportunity for younger people in our region.”
After 40 years of dedication, creativity and musical zest, the Athens Community Music School continues to shape the lives of young local artists around them. Whether it be through recitals, private lessons or pursuing a degree in music, ACMS has the power to change the perspectives of future adults.
“I think ACMS’s longevity and success is due to our consistency of instruction and the support of the community,” said Blackwood. “Music is such an integral part of childhood, and it would be our hope that the training they receive is something they carry with them forever.”