By Mary Ellen Slone


Since it began in 2004, this unique nonprofit group has provided free musical performance education opportunities to financially disadvantaged young people in our city. Located in downtown Lexington, Central Music Academy (CMA) provides a positive impact on these young individuals that’s been nothing short of amazing. Children between the ages of 8 and 18 who qualify for free or reduced lunches at school qualify for free lessons at CMA. To date, the organization’s dedicated teachers have given more than 25,000 free lessons to over 850 grateful local kids. 
The group’s director, Erin Walker Bliss, Ph.D., is on the World Music faculty at the University of Kentucky and has led the CMA since it began.  Erin holds a doctorate in Percussion and 2nd World Music from UK, where she has intrigued students with her knowledge of jazz history, Asian music, and the history of rock and roll. She has also been on the teaching faculty at the Bands of America World Percussion Summer Symposium. Erin’s diverse musical interests have allowed her to travel to Korea, Trinidad, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Thailand, Canada, Croatia and throughout America. 
Assistant Director Michelle Clouse and Volunteer Coordinator Anabelle Wright-Gatton are both graduates of UK, Clouse with a degree in communications and Wright-Gatton with a degree in vocal performance. Michelle participated as a peer mentor for UK 101, was a site leader for UK FUSION and interned at Kentucky Educational Television and Kentucky Refugee Ministries. She also worked at the Singletary Center for the Arts for four years. Since 2006, Clouse has been the Assistant Director at the Central Music Academy. Anabelle Wright Gatton is a founding member of the Bluegrass Opera, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing opportunities for deserving composers, musicians and singers. Both are active in many phases of this unique organization.
Clouse and Wright-Gatton work together with an impressive team of volunteers as well as paid instructors. To say that everyone involved with this unique undertaking is passionate about this endeavor is an understatement: the unilateral commitment to fostering an appreciation for all genres of music is the foundation of the group’s success. 
“The CMA’s quest is to enable our students to learn self-discipline, musical skills, and the objectives of collective endeavors, deriving a sense of self-esteem while learning to play and to enjoy music.
“Our organization’s curricular goals include building basic music appreciation, introducing world culture, providing a structured environment for high-risk children, and further developing self-discipline through instrument practice.  The lessons students learn while they’re 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.
“Our premise is to enhance our community by reaching out through music to kids who might not otherwise be able to learn and to enjoy all that music can offer. We have proven that teaching kids the value of art and culture promotes a lifelong appreciation, which will span generations and will seek to encourage the continual infusion of community with new groups of people interested in the arts. Our vision is to see our students become well-rounded individuals who, even if they do not choose to make music their careers, will maintain a lifelong passion for, and connection with the arts.”
Dr. Bliss observes, “Our past students have a 100% high school graduation rate, and of all the high school seniors who were studying at CMA at the time of their graduations (including the recent 2015 class) l00% have been accepted to a college or university. In 2015, 11 seniors graduated. They’re now attending UK, Transylvania, Berea, NKU, BCTC, and the University of Southern California. Three of the eleven are majoring in music at UK this fall.”
CMA students have successfully auditioned into the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA), the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra (CKYO), all-district/all-state choirs, bands and orchestras.
CMA is significantly and intentionally diverse: 43% of current students are Caucasian, 36% are African American, 8% are biracial, 8% are Hispanic; and 5% are Asian or Pacific Islander. Recognizing that none of these aspiring musicians would be able to pay for lessons, CMA gets its funding from a widely diverse group of organizations and individuals, all of whom are committed to the premise that kids who are interested in music should have an opportunity to experience it.
Students, parents and faculty members aren’t at all hesitant to voice their appreciation for the positive impact the Academy has provided, that extends far beyond the music. Recent graduate Noah Tolson exemplifies the appreciation of many, saying “If it wasn’t for CMA, I wouldn’t have made it into Youth Orchestra or SCAPA. I am currently majoring in music at the University of Kentucky. I studied at CMA for five years, and those experiences have enormously aided my self confidence in other areas of my life.”
Faculty teacher Brad Meyer observes, “Many of the students who have enrolled in CMA live in neighborhoods where they are exposed to a much harder lifestyle than any child deserves. With the help and encouragement of the private lesson teachers at CMA, these young people learn to focus their attention on achieving an objective, instead of getting caught up in things like substance abuse and violent activities.” 
A parent of a recently graduated CMA student noted, “CMA actually helped my son with math homework. He loves music, and continues to work hard to get it right – it’s an attitude that carries over to other areas in his life.  CMA has been a joy for him, and it has instilled in him a sense of pride and achievement.”
Another student reflects, “Without CMA, I never would have had the money for lessons, and wouldn’t have been able to develop my passion for and ability in music. CMA has enormously aided my self-confidence.”
The Central Music Academy is funded through both grants and the generosity of private donors. This support allows CMA’s financially disadvantaged students to receive free lessons, finances the purchase of instruments and sheet music, and pays for top professional musicians to teach private and group lessons. All contributions are tax deductible, and each will help to ensure that CMA will be able to continue to enrich the lives of many children for years to come.

Did you know…
100% of CMA students would not be able to pay for lessons without aid; thus, CMA does not charge and is dependent on donations and grants to continue its mission.
CMA is the only school in Central Kentucky that gives free weekly half-hour private music lessons.
CMA provided free lessons to 120 students during the most recent school year, utilizing 18 different types of instruments.
Nearly half of CMA’s current teachers have completed master’s or doctoral degrees in music.
The CMA calendar includes at least one student performance every month.
Summer activities include World Percussion Camp, group classes such as jazz, guitar, clarinet, and a “We Move and Groove” class for pre-school age kids. 

Save the Date:
The Academy’s Honors Recital is on February 26 at 6:30 pm, offered in partnership with the UK Art Museum. It will be held in the museum’s permanent collection area.

Help the cause: 
Whether you’re a musician or an avid music ‘buff’, consider donating cash or any not-likely-to-be-used again instruments in your possession to the Central Music Academy. The organization will happily receive donations of instruments and sheet music, which will allow young aspiring musicians to utilize something which will bring him or her joy and allow you to file for a tax deduction.  
In 2015, CMA participated in the Central Kentucky Good Giving Challenge for the fourth consecutive year, was the featured nonprofit at the Moontower Music Festival, and partnered with WUKY on an instrument drive. The Central Music Academy also recently received its first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which will provide free music lessons as well as bluegrass and steelband classes to kids from the north side of Lexington. | Erin Walker Bliss 859-221-4666