Your Eastsider Neighborhood Music School

Tucked neatly inside the heart of Boyle Heights you will find a neighborhood gem that dates back to the turn of the century. The Neighborhood Music School is a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the surrounding community through education in the musical arts. The school is housed in one of the oldest Victorian homes in the neighborhood. It was originally founded in 1914 as a Settlement House to teach English and music to Russian immigrants. If you look at the neighborhood today, it still remains an immigrant community; however, instead of the Russian, Jewish and Japanese tenants it housed at the turn of the century you will find it is now mostly Latino.

The school retains its original mission of uplifting the community through music and is one of the most affordable options for surrounding residents. Bernard Leon, the school’s office manager says, “You can’t beat our prices! There is only one other school in the area that can compete and generally once people visit us they tend to sign up.” The school charges $16 for a private half hour lesson and group instruction is only $6.25 per week for an hour-long class. The current administrator, Wendy Kikkert, points out that their prices are kept low to reflect the financial reality of the residents in the neighborhood. The median income for families in the East Los Angeles area is $25,000 per year, which falls right near the poverty line for a family of four. For those that cannot pay the full rate, the school still offers several scholarships. However, they never give the classes away free because they want the children and their families to value what they get. “Even if it is $1 per class, everybody pays something,” says Kikkert.

Leon attributes the schools success to the family-like feeling of the organization. “We aren’t just teaching music here, we are teaching life skills. Kids don’t just come here for music, they come for tutoring, to hang out, they can come here for anything.” Leon is more than just the office manager, he actually grew up in the Neighborhood Music School program and has taken lessons in both violin and piano there since he was 4 years old. His passion and enthusiasm for the school is grounded in his own personal story, showing the direct impact that the Neighborhood Music School has on the lives of the children that it serves.

Over the years the school has had its challenges, but they have always found ways to be innovative and persevere. The school currently serves almost 200 students in the form of both private and group lessons from ages 5 years up to adults. “We could be serving more,” says Leon, “we just have to continue to let the neighborhood know that we exist.” They recently created signs to welcome the community in and have seen notable influx of interest from passersby. Leon is also actively building a community on Facebook and using the platform to share pictures and stories to grow their student base. According to Kikkert, the public schools in the surrounding area do not provide music education until high school. So attending the Neighborhood Music School may be their only opportunity to play an instrument before that time.