The minute I walk in the door, I feel a peace descend, perhaps inspired by the cool minted colors of the walls and doors. Then I look up and notice the names of musical legends - from every era and every walk-of-life - splashed around the perimeter of the ceiling in music note-like waves. All of a sudden, something new breaks my reverie. It is the beautiful strains of Ave Maria; the voice so pure and strong it's hard to beleive it's coming from such a young child. It is the sound of pride and the sound of joy. And it is also something more ... the sweet sound of success. For the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory of Music is meeting its aim - to promote individual and community growth through music, with resounding success.
The commitment began in 1955, when the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, established in 1897, opened a second school in Queens. At that time, the Board decided to call this facility by the same name. But a growing commitment to Queens, and the community at large, has resulted in a new name, a new location and new leadership.
In 1997, the school was re-named the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory of Music. It was one of many innovations inspired by David Rivel, who left Lincoln Center in 1995 to assume direction of the Conservatory. The Queens School has also moved to a new location, on Main Street in Flushing, just a few blocks down from the Queens Botanical Gardens.
The new facilities include a 125-seat concert hall, 16 acoustically designed lesson rooms, a music library, executive offices, brand new pianos donated by Yamaha, and a spacious entryway which features the mural of musicians' names from Wagner to Armstrong. The state-of-the-art building, the result of $500,000 in renovations, is home to 500 students (of which about 70 percent are children) and over 100 dedicated, professional instructors.
While many things are new at The Conversatory, one thing remains steadfast - its commitment to the community. While the school began in the European tradition as a conversatory for which students had to audition, it has now become a true community school of the arts, and attempts to make arts education accessible to all. Financially, this commitment takes the form of reasonable tuition rates and scholarships; physically, it includes handicapped accessibility; culturally, it means The Conservatory has often stepped in when the NYC Board of Education has pulled out. For one of the Conservatory's most notable programs - Music Partners - brings a hands-on, year-long music curriculum to eight Queens Schools where such education would be otherwise unavailable.
According to Cicily Wilson, the new director of communications and development, music is an integral part of a child's development. "A school wouldn't think about sacrificing art or physical education. But many sacrifice music, and shouldn't. Music inspires creativity and gives children a positive outlet for their energy and imagination."
For parents considering enrolling their child in a program of musical studies, Wilson recommends The Conservatory's type of experience, because of its depth and structure. She believes knowing when to start is a very individual goal, and varies with each child and family. The Children's Division at the Conservatory, however, begins at age four.
The Children's Division offers Music Appreciation and Violin Adventures for the very young; for school-aged children, a Children's Chorus; plus individual instruction in instruments (violin, cello, flute, guitar, piano, clarinet, drums), or voice. The Adult Division includes music theory, sight singing and composition classes, as well as a comprehensive Jazz Division (the largest of any school in the nation), and an African Drum Section (led by Kenny Murphy, an assistant director, whose 25-year tenure began as a six-year-old student). The Conservatory also produces nearly 50 free/low cost concerts each year.
The Brooklyn Queens Conservatory is one of the oldest and largest non-profit community schools of the arts in the nation, and the only community school of the arts in Queens certified by that National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts. If you are interested in attending a performance or an open house, or in registering for the 17-week fall semester (beginning in September), call (718) 461-8910.