The History of Community Music School

Following an inspiring visit to the W.O. Smith Music School in Nashville, Tennessee, former Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary Cates motivated local musicians to start a music school to serve financially disadvantaged families in our community. Similar schools have played pivotal roles in nurturing some of America’s great artistic talents, including clarinetist Benny Goodman, singer Johnny Mathis, dancer Martha Graham and actress Helen Hayes.

In 1994, with Mrs. Cates’s dream and driving motivation, $5,000 in seed money obtained by Virginia Zehr, and the hard work of a team of volunteers from N.C. Symphony Orchestra, N.C. State University Music Department, Wake County Schools, Meredith College and individual musicians and community leaders, the first students were enrolled in Community Music School!

Since the beginning, private music lessons have cost our students only $1, thanks to the generosity and support of individual donors, corporations, foundations and public grants.

Mary Cates with a CMS student in 2013

Founder Mary Cates with a CMS student in 2013

After years of making things work in borrowed space at local churches and universities, Community Music School settled into rented space on the campus of St. Saviour’s Center on Tucker Street in 2010. We are grateful for the opportunities that this building and the neighboring auditorium provide for our students.

Also in 2010, we joined the Berklee College of Music’s City Music Network, a select, national group of schools offering the Berklee PULSE™ music method. PULSE is an extensive online hub for music education materials, such as one-on-one video tutorials for instrument instruction, history of song and genre, music theory learning games, aural comprehension exercises, composition development, individual and group lesson plans, and much more. This supplemental educational opportunity is provided to students at no cost.

Music composition was added to the curriculum at Community Music School in 2013, allowing advanced students to write original music and lyrics and perform their work.

In the fall of 2013, to mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the school, the Mary Cates Scholarship for Advanced Studies was established to aid exceptional students in their musical endeavors.

Each year, we welcome new and returning students into the School and enrich their lives through music education. We are proud to have served our community for more than 20 years.

Instructor Matt Vooris leads a classical percussion workshop in Feb. 2015.

Instructor Matt Vooris leads a classical percussion workshop in Feb. 2015.