Gustavus church looks at starting music academy for Northeast

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What would you think about a new Northeast music academy?

That’s what some local church members are wondering, and Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church’s staff is busy sending out feelers to gauge the community’s opinion on it.

The church’s new minister of worship and music, Shaun Halland—who sings and plays the piano, various percussion instruments, and the organ—previously taught music in a public high school in Waukon, Iowa. (He joined the Gustavus Adolphus staff in August, 2005.)

Halland said the proposed academy’s working name is Gustavus Adolphus Music and Arts Academy (GAMAA); it would be a non-profit organization, open to anybody in the community.

“We would like to offer as much as we can,” he said. “We’re exploring an art academy as well [as a music academy], and some of our church members have degrees in theater. In the past, the church has put on youth musicals.”

Church staff people have flyered the neighborhood, contacted Northeast’s neighborhood organizations and printed a community survey on their church Web site: www.gachurchmpls.org/gamaa_survey.html.

The church is prepared to respond to what the community wants, he added. “If the surveys come back saying people want us to teach sculpture, we’ll do our darndest to find a sculptor. We saw a need for this. The local schools are facing a lack of resources and funding, and we feel the church can step in and help.”

Some details haven’t been worked out yet, such as the cost of private or group lessons, scholarships for students with financial need, and whether or not the church will be able to provide instruments and music. “We’ve talked about collecting instruments and music that people want to donate. If somebody has an unused saxophone in their closet, we’d be more than happy to take it.”

He said he envisions small groups performing in ensembles at community events, or perhaps twice a year in recitals as part of their lessons. “We’re looking for teachers as well; those would be paid positions. They would be able to use their own style of teaching, without us imposing a curriculum on them.”

So far, people they’ve contacted seem receptive to the idea, and the church members like it too, Halland said. “This congregation has been looking for some outreach opportunities over the years. They considered tutoring or starting a day care. But this seems like something we could put our hands around and get into.” Some staff members such as custodian Joe Timmers, who plays the guitar, might help out at the academy, Halland said.

Lessons would likely be offered for students after school on weekdays, and maybe some Saturday mornings, he said. There might also be arts and music offerings for adults, such as movement/dance classes, theater arts classes , and visual arts lessons in painting and/or drawing. Teachers could use the church’s Sunday school classrooms, the sanctuary and the fellowship hall.

Church and staff member Mary Larson said that people in the church wanted to offer affordable music lessons for children. “We saw a need for music and arts education; it’s becoming harder for schools to provide it. We might also have workshops for adults, or possibly a book club.” She said the church is interested in attracting more young families, and the music and arts academy might serve as a bridge to the neighborhood.

Tim Nelson, clarinet player and president of the Northeast Community Band (which rehearses weekly at Northeast Middle School), said he thinks it’s a “great idea” for a local church to start a music and arts academy. “Good for Gustavus Adolphus; I hope their students end up playing in our band; we’re always looking for people.

(A note: Tim Martin, a trumpet player, directs the Northeast Community Band.)

While the Twin Cities are fortunate to have “an incredible amateur music scene” with many community orchestras and bands, he added, “We all know that the Minneapolis school district is in serious financial straits. It seems like public school music teachers are always under the gun, trying to piece together their jobs, and going from building to building.”

Nelson, who took up the clarinet as an adult, said he thinks that it’s better to start learning an instrument at a young age. “There aren’t many adult music learners. It’s one of those things you have to start young. A musical education is a life-changing experience. Music has an incredible power to bring people together, and it’s fun.”

For information on the Gustavus Adolphus Music and Arts Academy, call 612-789-7256, ext. 12, email shaunh @gachurchmpls.org, or fill out the survey on the web site, at www.gachurchmpls.org/ gamaa_survey.html.