In 2020, the Center for Musical Arts’ Heartstrings program celebrates 20 years of providing need-based tuition assistance and access to low- or no-cost musical instruments for students who cannot afford to rent them from a music store. Education Director Dr. Kathy Kucsan — she prefers to go by “Kathy” — is a co-founder of the school and has had a front seat from which to witness the power of the Heartstrings program.

Kathy credits a trombone teacher, Danielle Chollet, for beginning the Center’s popular “Instrument Bank.” “[Chollet] had been gathering instruments for several years (mostly brass, and most of those were trombones) and giving them to kids who could not afford to buy or rent their own instruments,” remembers Kathy. “She was sort of a Pied Piper, often delivering instruments to kids at their homes. She eventually amassed about 75 instruments, and they took over an entire room of her house.” Chollet approached the Center about housing the instruments, and the Instrument Bank, which now includes roughly 300 items, was born.

The second access strategy of the Heartstrings program, need-based tuition assistance, runs on the honor system — no lengthy application or copies of taxes required, to make sure students feel welcome to apply. Kathy explains that students respect the Center’s approach, and that many of these students return as donors and volunteers down the road. Currently, around 35-40% of CMA students receive some degree of tuition assistance; in 2019, that equated to ~$65,000 in support to those students.

Kathy says that Heartstrings has continued to grow in new ways — for example, by providing 100% tuition assistance for veterans, as well as for Dreamers through the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, which serves under-resourced communities. The Center provides a free ukulele class for 4th graders at Pioneer Bilingual Elementary School and two after-school classes at Sanchez Elementary.

“This spring,” says Kathy, “we will be sending faculty ensembles into Title I schools for outreach concerts. We are partnering with a teacher who created a program called ‘Musical Freedom,’ which provides instruments and lessons for men and women incarcerated in two different prisons. And we’ve created a choir called Coro Santuario (Sanctuary Choir) that sings repertoire in Spanish, and is free or ‘pay-what-you-can’ to participants of all ages.”

Over the next 20 years, there is no shortage of ideas about how the program might continue to expand to serve its community. Kathy ruminates, “Maybe we have more community ensembles and supply all the instruments. Maybe music in the schools explodes after people realize and accept that music instruction supports almost all other kinds of learning (language, math, socialization, spatial awareness, etc.) and music in the schools becomes a core part of the curriculum in a big way.” Between partnerships with human service organizations and deeper connections with Colorado Music Festival offerings, the possibilities are staggering.

The Heartstrings program has already enjoyed countless achievements and success stories in its first 20 years, from the 3rd grader who saved up $3.47 to donate to the program to the young clarinetist who told Kathy, “I get to play music so beautiful that it makes my heart hurt or sing.” In Kathy’s words, “To me, the major accomplishment is one person at a time getting to learn/play/listen to/love music because we gave them a way, and maybe their lives turned out just a little differently because they got to have music.”

How YOU Can Support the Heartstrings Program

Besides the always-welcome donations of cash, the Center is always accepting donations of any band/orchestra instrument, as well as guitars, drum sets, ukuleles, and electronic keyboards. (The Center re-gifts donated pianos to families who cannot afford to buy one.) The Center also appreciates those who donate time – Kathy is always grateful to volunteers who step up to move pianos and clean and repair instruments.