Alumni of the NIU Community School of the Arts Sinfonia join current members for a concert Sunday, December 22 at NIU's Boutell Memorial Concert Hall to mark the School’s 25th anniversary. Deborah Booth has been the School’s director for much of that time. Booth says it started small, and with a particular focus.
"The Community School of the Arts began as the Community Music School in 1988 as an initiative of the NIU School of Music. They set up a structure, at that point a committee of School of Music faculty, and it’s a structure that when I began in 1992, kept intact and built on. It started with a few private students, and a few small classes, and it’s grown from there."
Booth says that growth has been strong.
"It probably had, at the very beginning, fewer than fifty people involved: just a few teachers and a few students. At this point we’re seeing anywhere from three to four hundred people a semester who come into DeKalb for private lessons or to play in an ensemble or to take a music, theater or art class. We have as many as fifty different communities and towns represented with those folks, and a lot of multi-generational families where people are doing different things."
So why does she think that has happened?
"I think the arts are very important to people, and I think this kind of a program is appealing because it makes it possible for people to engage in the arts at any level, from the very beginning, very young, to older people who just want to learn something new, or continue something they already know. [It] gives people a whole other outlet that they don’t have in their day-to-day lives."
Booth says the school gets plenty of feedback from its alumni.
"We hear a variety of things. We keep in touch. Facebook’s wonderful for that. And we have, with this reunion concert that we have coming up, anecdotally heard a lot more from some of the folks who have been in our orchestra over the past fifteen years. And a number of them have continued: majored in music, and continued, if not as careers, they continued as avocation to be part of school orchestras, university orchestras and as hobbies afterwards."
They’re coming back for this concert, which is not, you know, just a cakewalk in terms of the music, and we have probably sixty-five alums. So, that tells you that there’s been a continuation of both interest and skill level with involvement in music.
Booth says that continuing level of interest reflects once again the broad appeal of the School's offerings, and says she has seen personally that it is fulfilling its mission.
"We have many recitals at the end of the semester, and we’ll see a daughter perform harp, and in the next recital, a son perform guitar, and then, by gosh, in the last recital the mom play in the ukulele ensemble. And that’s not particularly rare that we see a lot of family involvement and intergenerational involvement, and then we might actually see grandparents coming to all those recitals to watch. So it’s a very nice feeling in that when we talk about a community school, we see it illustrated in ways like that. You see it very vividly."