Few events on the UMKC campus have the same wow factor and feel-good aura as the Musical Bridges benefit luncheon. The joy on the faces of young people expressing their musical talents in a way they once thought impossible, was matched by the joy of an appreciative audience.
An engagement program of the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance and its Community Music and Dance Academy, Musical Bridges epitomizes UMKC’s mission as a leader in the performing arts: an urban-serving university that offers one-on-one musical instruction to young people who otherwise would have no way to access it.
The program began in response to the reality that pre-collegiate musicians from Kansas City’s urban core typically have little or no individualized instruction. By offering intensive, private instruction and performance experience, MB helps young musicians prepare for auditions to selective university programs such as the UMKC Conservatory.
The event brought together students, faculty, community arts leaders, educators and donors to generate financial support for and demonstrate the exceptional value of Musical Bridges.
With heartwarming honesty, one young alumnus of the program talked about how he would have been just a statistic without Musical Bridges. He related a little of his story, saying that he is where he is today because of the program.
After introductions by Chancellor Morton, Dean Peter Witte, Academy director Mara Gibson and Musical Bridges coordinator Lauren Hart, three students – ages 13 to 16 – performed alongside their teachers.
The talented display exhibited the power of the arts at work in our community, as well as the impact a committed public university can generate through sustained outreach to underserved communities.
As part of Musical Bridges, high school and middle school students receive free instruction in voice or instrument, and music composition, for 36 weeks. Although faculty may be Conservatory instructors or alumni, the primary teaching corps is made up of Conservatory graduate students. The instructors go to the schools for the lessons, so the student doesn’t have to travel.
The luncheon showcased the fruits of that program in dramatic and entertaining fashion. Student participants from Kansas City, Kansas, Kansas City, Missouri, and Hickman Mills school districts gave a special performance, exhibiting the level of professionalism that young musicians can achieve.
Senior soprano Antoinette Miller, a student of Stephanie Meyer, spoke of her appreciation for what the program had given her.
“Musical Bridges has helped me to extend my vocal ability and discover more about myself,” Miller said. “The instructors are caring and compassionate about their students. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of such a great musical family!”
This year’s fundraiser also featured nationally known speaker Stanford Thompson, the 2015 Musical Bridges/Francis Family Foundation Fellow. Thompson’s belief in using music to drive social action led him to found Play On, Philly! This program offers educational and social opportunities to children through the study of music. POP provides musical instruction in communities with little music education. Stanford’s efforts have changed the lives of hundreds of Philadelphia youngsters.
As you might expect, UMKC is not performing solo. In addition to the benefit luncheon, Musical Bridges has received generous grants from the Francis Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louis and Frances Swinken Supporting Foundation and the Black Community Fund. These partners enable the Conservatory to cultivate young talent and nurture appreciation for the arts.