Posted by Elizabeth Devereux
In January and February of 2011, Camden, NJ made international news for its budget cuts that have led to laying off over 400 city workers, including 45% of the police force. Although last week brought news
that Camden will rehire 50 of the 167 police officers and 15 of the 68 firefighters who were laid off, Camden residents are still nervous about the consequences of the budget cuts on their security, especially as the summer months approach. In a city that is notorious for its high crime rate–it was ranked the nation’s most dangerous city in 2004, 2005, and 2009–the recent police force cuts seem to contribute to a dark narrative of a crime-laden and poverty-stricken city in crisis.
My hope in this post, which will be the first of a series of Commendable Camden posts, is to describe the silver linings of beauty and humanity that still exist in a suffering city.
I began teaching private violin lessons in Camden at the Settlement Music School branch on Main St. in December of 2010. Before that, I had been to Camden only a few times for events connected to Symphony in C
, formerly the Haddonfield Symphony that relocated to Camden. Clearly, my experience of Camden is limited to these few experiences. Since I began teaching in Camden, I’ve been eager to explore more of the city, because I think I teach students better when I know about their community. As a start, I would love to have input on this blog from Camden residents themselves and others who have wider experiences with the city.
I joined the faculty of Settlement Music School’s Camden School of Musical Arts four months ago, at the beginning of December 2010. The Camden School of Musical Arts became the newest of Settlement Music School’s six branches when it was integrated in 2005. (The brand new Willow Grove facility
, replacing the former Jenkintown Branch, is now officially the newest
Camden School of Musical Arts was formed in 1987 by a group of local ministers, music educators, and residents, led by Camden High School music teacher Doris Brooks, who saw a need for musical education in a community where school music classes were being cut. Ten years later, in 1997, the Camden School of Musical Arts approached Settlement Music School (located about a 10-minute drive from Camden over the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philly) about beginning a collaborative relationship. By 2005, this relationship had grown into the full incorporation of the Camden School into the sixth branch of Settlement Music School.
I got to sit down with Branch Director Valerie Clayton, who has run the Camden School of Musical Arts since 1997. While I am teaching there on Thursdays (a slower day at the Camden branch), Valerie keeps her office door open, she frequently comes out and catches up with parents and students, she sometimes sits at the reception area directly in front of the Branch entrance and speaks with Angie, our receptionist, or Marisela, the Branch coordinator. Valerie is kind and approachable, she runs a smooth and well-organized branch, and she shows investment in the students’ success and progress.
One of the highlights of my conversation with Valerie was the story of the school’s attractive and modern building. Based on how the Camden branch looks, I had assumed that the building had been newly built for the specific purpose of housing the Settlement branch. NOT SO! The Camden School of Musical Arts is housed in what used to be Kenny G’s bar and lounge. There was even a disco ball hanging over the current recital hall stage area! I love the transformation this represents–a rebirth of music and dance in a different format and for a different age group.
My Thursday studio of violinists is filled with kind, eager, hard-working students. I’m eager to see them grow as musicians as they grow up from children to young adults. I’m excited to join them as part of the Camden Settlement community!
If you’re interested in joining the Camden Settlement community as well, keep reading to find out how…
Sign Me Up!
Camden School of Musical Arts is open Monday through Thursday and Saturday, offering private lessons in all orchestral instruments as well as guitar and voice, Suzuki violin group classes, Children’s Choir (3rd–8th grade), dance, and a brand new jazz program lead by Nasir Dickerson
. Its enrollment has grown from 100 in 1997 to 504 in 2009.
Call 856-541-6375 or visit the website
to register for lessons or find out more about Settlement’s Camden School of Musical Arts.