There’s a lot to celebrate at the Manchester Community Music School.
First, there’s the 30-year anniversary event on Sunday, June 1, at 1 p.m., which includes an original, commissioned piece to be performed by the NH Youth Jazz Ensemble and a film viewing party with stories of students past and present.
Last week, the music school also announced its new CEO will be Billie Tooley. She brings in much experience, having served as executive director of the New Hampshire Art Association and held development roles at the American Red Cross and Strawbery Banke Museum. She’s also owned her own marketing and consulting firm.
Tooley’s term also starts June 1, making this weekend a time to look backward and forward, celebrating what the school has done the past 30 years and planning for the next 30. Throughout its history, the MCMS has given more than 50,000 people access to musical education, and more than 5,000 have benefitted from its financial aid programs.
“The music school has had a pretty significant impact on the greater Manchester area, and in the state,” current CEO Jeanine Tousignant said in a phone interview. She leaves the school this year to pursue her longtime dream of starting her own organizational and fundraising consulting firm.
“We’ve grown so much just in five years, and so we thought it was a great time to celebrate the 30th anniversary, and to capture the difference the music school makes in people’s lives,” she said.
There have been celebratory events and workshops all year long, many of which were sponsored by the Frederick Smyth Institute of Music, but this weekend marks the grand finale.
The Music School began in 1983 with a small youth string orchestra, conceived and supported by philanthropists May and Sam Gruber. According to the MCMS website, the next 10 years brought in more private lessons on more instruments, and early childhood programs were introduced.
In 1993, the school moved to 83 Hanover St. (grand pianos were delivered via crane through the windows, as board members drywalled and painted), where it could serve 200 students.
And still the school continued to grow; with philanthropic support from businesses, the organization moved to its current facility at 2291 Elm St. in 2003.
“A big moment was when we founded the music therapy program in 2006,” Tousignant said.
Since then, the school has helped about 2,000 students with developmental disabilities.
“We have many partnerships in the community,” Tousignant continued. “We’re partnered with 10 different school systems now throughout the state and six social service agencies to bring therapy to their clientele.”
It’s because of generous donors that the music school can do so much; the school is a nonprofit, and tuition only covers 60 percent of the school’s expenses, but as the school’s students and parents will tell you, its presence in the community is significant.
“I think music plays an important part to all kids growing up,” said Tracy Pace, whose son, Nathan, is a member of the school’s Youth Jazz Ensemble. “We started our son with violin lessons, not to make a musician out of him, but to teach him discipline.” (He became a musician anyway.)
Nathan’s past violin teacher advised Tracy that he join the MCMS orchestra group three years ago (he’s 14 now), which has been beneficial in ways different than his private lessons. The school has become a community, the orchestra members his teammates.
“You don’t get the sound of the symphony orchestra when you’re playing by yourself,” Tracy said.
Among the other events on June 1: lots and lots of concerts, featuring the 2G MCS, the Concert Band, the Wind Ensemble, the Harp Group, the String Prep Ensemble, the Concert Orchestra and the Dino Agnagnost Youth Symphony Orchestra. There will be an introduction to the school’s new CEO, and a film screening that highlights the MCMS students’ and families’ stories.
“I’m always touched to hear the stories here. It’s mindblowing, what an incredible difference the music school makes in people’s lives,” Tousignant said. “It’s a thing that can’t be underestimated. What if the music school had not been in the community the past 30 years? Our community would look a little differently.”