Op-Ed

Music academy has helped Lexington kids. Now it needs community’s help.

Jane Kelton
Jane Kelton

In 2005 Central Christian Church embarked on a new outreach program which has developed into a very successful endeavor and has made a substantial contribution to our community. The Central Music Academy grew out of an idea and inspiration of Joshua Santana, who grew up in the Bronx, New York, where he says he was rescued from a life on a downward spiral by a music program he attended as a youth. This was a program for disadvantaged youth, and because of its positive effect on his life, he wanted to do the same for others when he was an adult in Lexington. In December 2004, a generous local foundation awarded a grant for seed money, and the Central Music Academy became a reality.

In February 2005, it was incorporated as a non-profit organization and a board was elected with six members from Central Christian Church plus two other leaders in the Lexington music community (Ben Arnold of the UK School of Music and George Zack of the Lexington Philharmonic). In March of 2005, Erin Walker was hired as the first CMA Director and shortly after, Michelle Clouse came aboard as her assistant. These two women have proven to be exceptional directors. Their knowledge, leadership ability, and personable demeanor have contributed greatly to the success of the Academy since its inception.

While CMA was originally housed on Central Christian Church’s Campus, and later moved to Transylvania University’s campus, it has recently moved to the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center at 644 Georgetown Street, where there is more room and a close location to the neighborhood where many of the students live.

The Central Music Academy exists to provide free music performance education for economically disadvantaged children in Lexington. Free music lessons are offered to all levels of learners, in all areas of musical performance: winds, percussion, voice, and strings. Since CMS’s inception, its dedicated teachers have given more than 40,000 free lessons to 1000+ students. The lessons students learn while studying music help them to be more precise, to be better listeners, to collaborate well with others, to express themselves, and to persevere when setting and achieving goals. CMA can boast an amazing statistic—of the over 1000 students who have gone through the CMA program, 100% (not a typo) have graduated from high school and 99% of the graduating seniors have gone to college or to the US military.

The Academy is diverse with 40% of students identifying as African American, 37% Caucasian, 20% Hispanic, and 3% as Asian or Pacific Islander. CMA sponsors monthly student performances, summer camps focused on world percussion, jazz, Bluegrass, rock, guitar, and more. CMA was recognized in 2017 as a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalist and, as such, was cited as one of the best arts- and humanities-based programs in the country. In 2019, CMA received funding for the National Endowment for Arts Foundation for a third time.

Though the students take lessons for free, the teachers are paid through grants and donations, and CMA needs more funding to sustain its programs as well as enroll students from off of its long waitlist. Each music lesson costs $22.50, or $900 for a full year (40 weeks) of lessons. An annual event, “CMA Rocks the House,” is the major fundraiser for the Academy. This year the event will be at the Hilton Lexington Downtown on November 1. This year’s honoree is Stu Silberman, retired Fayette County School Superintendent, for his contributions to CMA and the community.

Jane Kelton is a retired Fayette County teacher and a former board member of Central Music Academy.

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