The Neighborhood Music School began in 1914, in a little cottage on a street in Boyle Heights that was named —quite appropriately—Mozart. Founded by musician-composer Carrie Stone Freeman, it was known at the time as the “Los Angeles Music School Settlement.” Freeman’s gift of $1,000 gave life to this learning center where low-cost lessons enabled children to develop musical talent that might otherwise not have been available to them. LA Times writer Lee Shippey referred to the school in a 1931 edition of the paper, as “one of the most admirable institutions in Los Angeles.”
By 1924, more than 300 students per month were taking lessons at the school—a group that represented as many as 18 nationalities, including Russians, Jews, Italians, Germans and Japanese. The nine teachers—some of whom were members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and often earned $5.00 a lesson elsewhere—were paid 50 cents an hour at the LA Music School Settlement. Students paid as little as 12 cents an hour; some were given scholarships.
Renamed the Neighborhood Music School, the nonprofit school moved to its current location on South Boyle Avenue in 1933, where it continues to provide low-cost music instruction and scholarships to children. Its home is now a charmingly restored 19th century Victorian house where a cacophony of musical sounds can be heard, as young students and their families walk through the colorful rose garden that leads to the entrance.
In a more recent LA Times article, columnist Steve Lopez wrote, “This is not a building, but a home. Moms and dads wait quietly in the foyer, toddlers in their laps, as their older children disappear into practice rooms to unravel the mysteries of the pianos, stringed instruments or woodwinds. You can almost hear the sighs of generations of children forced to plow through the scales, and you can easily imagine the confidence-building joy as they make breakthroughs, young brains absorbing a new language.”
With a current enrollment of almost 350 students per month, NMS also provides performance opportunities such as “Showtime,” the school’s monthly informal recitals where students perform for their families and each other at the end of each half hour lesson.
The teaching staff is composed of professional musicians and educators whose mentoring and inspirational teaching methods encourage each student to strive for excellence in all that they do, as well as creating the foundation for a lifetime of music-making and enjoyment that is most often the natural outcome of this learning process.
Having been an institution in the Boyle Heights community for more than one hundred years, the school takes its civic duty seriously, regularly inviting neighbors for movie nights, Concerts in the Parlor, and other ongoing events, including an annual Open House/Community Festival. In addition to field trips, NMS students perform at a nearby hospital, retirement communities and other LA-area venues, bringing joy to their audiences and instilling the youngsters with pride of accomplishment and an understanding of the importance of helping others.
As it begins The Next 100 years, Neighborhood Music School continues to build bright futures, one note at a time.