Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the arts organization, Elemental Music, and what inspired this endeavor?
Emily Call: Elemental Music is a music education non-profit organization created to inspire, train, and nurture young musicians in Santa Monica. Originally called Elemental Strings, the program was launched in 2004 by a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District music teacher who wanted to create an opportunity for elementary students to play in an orchestra throughout the school year, and keep students engaged with music. Since then, more than 1,000 students have participated in our programs. What started with serving only 25 elementary school students has grown to serve over 300 elementary and middle school students in 7 different programs this season. We truly offer music ensembles for everyone, so a few years ago, we changed our name to be more inclusive, now known as Elemental Music!
BD: Since 2004, Elemental Music has created opportunities for elementary students in Santa Monica, CA, to play music ensembles throughout the school year, make new friends, and get excited about music. What are the various programs facilitated by the organization that are currently available students?
EC: We currently have six ensemble programs. Our elementary school programs are Prelude for beginning strings students, Elemental Strings, Elemental Band, Elemental Choir, and Elemental Guitar, which also includes an Intro Guitar ensemble. We also have a full orchestra ensemble called Academy Philharmonic, which is for middle school students. In addition to our ensemble programs, we work with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Education Foundation to provide free private lessons for qualified students in the community. These lessons run through the entire year – even during summer break!
BD: The organization will soon be launching Academy Philharmonic, your first full orchestra program for middle school students. What can you share with us about this new endeavor?
EC: For years, we had parents asking us to consider creating a program for middle school students, as they were sad to leave our ensembles after elementary school. In that way, Academy Philharmonic was a natural expansion for us. There aren’t many opportunities for middle school musicians to play in a full orchestra, which is an ensemble that combines string, wind, brass, and percussion instruments. Academy Philharmonic provides a chance for young musicians on the westside to learn how to listen and blend with new instruments, and start learning about traditional orchestral repertoire, in addition to preparing them for the full orchestra experience in high school.
BD: What are the biggest hurdles faced when providing music education to the students of the community?
EC: We are very fortunate to be in a community that values music education. One of the challenges we see is that students are very busy with all sorts of afterschool activities. We recognize that families have choices, and ours is one that comes with a more serious time commitment, between our weekly 2-hour rehearsals, as well as personal practice time. Our other challenge is that when people think of Santa Monica, they think of a very affluent community; however, over 40% of our students receive financial aid. We’ve awarded more than $70,000 in scholarships to enable all students to participate in our programs, regardless of their ability to pay the full yearly tuition cost. One of our biggest challenges every season is making sure that we can continue to provide high-quality music education programs to every student who wants to join our ensembles. We have never turned away a student due to lack of funds. As a non-profit, this means that we have a LOT of fundraising to do!
BD: How can other individuals get involved with Elemental Music throughout the year, and what are a few ways that community members can truly make a difference?
EC: Though we serve so many students in our programs and have a lot of incredible teachers who work with our kids every week, we are a very small administrative team. We are always looking for volunteers to help us in different ways – professional photographers who can snap some candids during rehearsals, videographers who can record our concerts or help us put together promotional materials, businesses in the community looking to form relationships with non-profits, etc.!
BD: Are there any other programs or activities that you are currently working on that you would like to share with our readers?
EC: We have a benefit concert coming up on April 7, which features world-class musicians who are all professors at University of California, Santa Barbara. It will be an intimate chamber music concert at a private home, with a meet & greet and refreshments after the performance. Funds raised in this performance will benefit scholarships for our students! You can visit here for more information. And for any families interested in joining our ensembles, we’ll be holding auditions for the 2018-19 season on Saturday, May 5, at Santa Monica College, Performing Arts Campus. Families will be able to sign up on our website at www.elementalmusic.org/auditions starting on April 1.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about Elemental Music?
EC: Visit www.elementalmusic.org for more information about our upcoming auditions and our programs. We’re also on all the usual social media channels, so follow us there for news about our concerts, fun photos, and great articles about music education!
If you have a volunteer opportunity or an important cause that could use the assistance of a few geeks, please email the details to barbra (at) fanbasepress (dot) com.