Raleigh, N.C. — The founder of the Community Music School in downtown Raleigh says her mission is making the gift of music affordable for every child.
When the students gather at the Church of the Good Shepherd, the sounds of strings, woodwinds, percussion instruments and pianos float through the hallways.
"It just seemed to be a natural to put the kids with the music, the music with the kids," founder Mary Cates said.
Students say they've fallen in love with music and the instruments that make it.
Fourth-grader Ariana Perrin picked the piano: "It has so many keys that have different sounds, like loud and low."
Seventh-grader Brinae Brown chose the cello: "The way it sounds, the way you move your fingers, I don't know – it's just something inside me it just brings out."
The Community Music School offers one-on-one lessons with professional instructors for children from financially strapped families. The cost is $1 per lesson, and if a student needs an instrument, he or she can get one for free.
"It's a great way for these children to get lessons that, you know, otherwise, they wouldn't have a way of getting," Cates said.
Cates, a former city councilwoman, founded the school after seeing a similar program in Nashville, Tenn.
"I thought, well, why not Raleigh? Raleigh has a lot of resources, and I knew that we had the need," she said.
Cates rallied a group of musicians, secured seed money and started with 16 students. Fifteen years later, her school has 125 students and a long waiting list.
Students said they feel grateful to be getting musical lessons at the school.
"I feel lucky for this because it doesn't cost a lot of money and I'm really learning a lot," eighth-grader Zoe Phinazee said.
"We don't have enough to do private lessons and everything like that, so this gave me a chance," Brinae said.
Instructors said that despite the charity work they do, the focus at the school is on playing well.
"It's the best job I've ever had. It's just not work," flute instructor An'Janee Molock said.
"Once you get face-to-face, one-on-one with a student, it becomes really a fun thing to do," cello instructor Jake Wenger said.
Cates said the students get to have fun, exploring different genres, all the while learning a valuable skill that pays dividends.
"It's all about the music, really learning how to do the music right," she said. "Everybody needs to be applauded at least once in their lifetime."