Rockland County’s Music Sanctuary Enjoying New Home

BY ALLAN GOLDSTEIN

For over 50 years there has been a school in Rockland County whose mission has been to assure that people of all ages can come to learn music no matter their financial means. This was the goal of the Rockland Conservatory of Music when it opened its doors in Spring Valley in 1956 and continues at its present Pearl River location.

Community Relations Coordinator Martha Lerner-Iglody explains, “We are the only not-for-profit community music school in the county. Our goal is to instill a life long love of music.”

Founded by musicians and educators Janet and Ed Simons, today there are 500 students coming from as far as Orange and Bergen counties. And, on some days, the 95-year old Mr. Simons still makes an appearance at the institution that he created.

RCM moved into its new Main Street facility on October 31 of last year and Lerner-Iglody adds, “We feel very much at home and have added new students who live in the area. On our first Thursday in Pearl River we had a concert with a music petting zoo. We invited the public to try out instruments and many children signed up because of that.”

“We provide the opportunity for people to learn music. Between 65 and 70 percent of our student body are children from the age of four years old through high school. We are particularly proud of the scholarships that we offer to underprivileged children. The scholarship program has been in existence since the Simons opened the school.”

Lerner-Iglody continued, “The remainder of the students are adults who may just enjoy music. Some are recently retired. Adults make up about 25-30 percent of our students. At our new location we have had a few people who have walked in here after having just gotten off the train.”

RCM offers a wide-ranging curriculum that includes instruction in a variety of instruments, voice, ear training, and reading and writing music. Also available are performance workshops and classes in the Suzuki method which teaches very young children (starting at age four) to play an instrument in the same manner they learn to speak a language.

Other opportunities for students include ensemble participation in a choral program (beginning at eight years of age), string orchestra (ten years of age) and chamber music ensembles for all ages. The school is also particularly proud of its on-site performance venue Simons Hall which can seat 85 people and is available for rental.

As good a reason as any for RCM’s long-running success story is encapsulated in the comments of the school’s Assistant Director Beth Weiss-Dunn who started as a student at the age of four and spent eight years in the RCM program. “This school has always felt like a place where I can be myself and be accepted—a home away from home.” Having moved away from the county as a youngster, Weiss-Dunn was only too happy to continue her relationship when she returned to take her current position in 2007.

Noted alumni include:

· Alexander Noyes: drummer for the band “Honor Society” and original drummer for The Jonas Brothers

· Alicia Svigals the preeminent Klezmer fiddler and founder of the Grammy-winning music group the Klezmatics: “My parents first brought me to the school when I was five years old, to begin violin lessons with founders Janet and Ed Sinons. From that moment forward, the school became a focal point of all our lives…a welcoming place full of creativity and fun and true community.”

· Jon Klibonoff: award winning international classical concert pianist

· Stanley Kurtis: noted violinist whose work has been featured on major motion picture soundtracks including Scent of a Woman and Bullets Over Broadway. “The training I received from the founders of The Conservatory, Janet and Ed Simons, formed the essential foundation of my music education and career. Without the good fortune that my mother brought me for lessons, where would I be now?

· Jovonn Alexander, pianist now known as the rap artist Fabolous.

The school is very active in its outreach to the Rockland County community.

In the upcoming weeks RCM will be participating in a number of events beginning with the 13th Annual Rockland County Youthfest on March 11 at Rockland Community College. On March 31, it will be hosting a musical feast featuring a Celtic theme and food. In the planning stages is a music marathon fundraiser to be held by RCM students who will be seeking pledges in support of the school.

Lerner-Iglody concluded, “If anybody wants to take music lessons in Rockland County this is the place to come. We also want the Conservatory to be a place where people can expect high quality musical performances. I like to see everyone get elevated in their passion for music. I love to see the interaction of the parents who are waiting for their kids and the teenagers in the string orchestra coming together around a common love.”

Executive Director Marigene Kettler has been at RCM for the past twelve years after serving as director of a music school in Mount Vernon, NY.

Quite obviously she is someone who enjoys her job. “I inherited a very well run school from my predecessors. My goal is to maintain its community feel while making sure that the music education is the best that it can be and that we continue to increase the number of scholarships that we can offer to children from low income families. Last year we gave $38,000 in scholarships to students who would have otherwise been unable to take lessons.”

She continued, “The best part of my job is that I am surrounded by music and people of all ages that come wanting to put music in their lives. I have a fantastic staff, spectacular faculty, a supportive board and a gorgeous building designed by Jeffrey Hall. That is what is all around. We are making and teaching music that is infused with a rhythm of color that is also environmentally green in the center of a lovely village.”