The University of South Florida College of The Arts is on a mission to make the performing arts more accessible to the community. Standing by this mission, the USF School of Music has launched two, 10-week courses for free as a part of its USF Community Music Project. Open to nearly all ages and levels, this semester’s courses are Shades of Broadway and Beatmakers Club. “We want to be a welcoming bridge to the community,” said Francesca Arnone, Community Music Project coordinator and assistant professor of flute instruction.
Taught by Allyssa Jones, director of Vocal Ensembles, Shades of Broadway focuses on musicals created by underrepresented composers on Broadway. This semester’s show is "The Wiz," composed by Charlie Smalls. “Musicals by Black and Brown composers are not the first thing that come to mind when people think of Broadway. It’s not because they don’t exist. It’s because we’re often unsung and undersold,” Jones said. “To make room for these voices, I felt we needed a low-impact, high-yield gateway to introduce these shows and composers to the general public in a hands-on way.”
Shades of Broadway singers are learning about "The Wiz" and its composer, exploring character development as it relates to singing solos in a choral setting. At the end of the course, they will perform a concert. The course is open to all ages and has attracted an intergenerational group of students ranging from college to elementary, including two mother-daughter duos.
“When I heard about Shades of Broadway, I thought, how awesome would it be for my daughter to have the opportunity to sing with a college professor and college students,” said participant Alissa Ackley. It turned into a family affair for Ackley when she ended up joining the class with her daughter, Aurora Bartholomay, and signed her son up for private drum lessons at USF. “She’s my best friend, so the class is a good way to bond,” said Bartholomay, a freshman at Robinson High School.
Beatmakers Club, taught by Kenrick Wagner, director of Commercial Music and Production, focuses on creating original beats using computers. Open to ages 14 and up, participants are learning how to analyze melodies and digitally arrange pieces of music together. “I do this for the music makers and creative artists who believe in themselves but may not believe that the highest level of their artistry is within their reach,” Wagner said. “I do this just to be a platform to put them on the center stage and help them be reassured that this is the place that they should be and that their talents shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
“Music in general is something that’s kind of hard to get into if you don’t have the money and resources to spend your way into it, so being able to get access to these sorts of classes is a really significant pathway into the world of music,” said Elijah Keila, a USF student dual majoring in professional and technical communication and applied linguistics.
The Community Music Project was created in 2021 to offer affordable private lessons, classes, workshops and events, taught by School of Music faculty and students to anyone interested in enjoying and creating music. These opportunities are available for nearly all ages and all levels, and no audition is required. The two free classes were added this semester as a gift to the community and the project’s offerings will continue to expand over time. Up next in March, two free community flute ensembles, culminating with the USF Flute Festival on April 15.
Another new addition is the project’s expansion to the USF St. Petersburg campus with the course, University Singers, a vocal ensemble performing repertoire from across cultures and styles.
To learn more about the Community Music Project and sign up for classes, click here. In addition to this initiative, tickets to all of the USF College of The Arts events are free to the public. You can learn more about how to register for upcoming performances here.
This feature is part of USF's series of stories that celebrate the work and accomplishments of its community members throughout Black Heritage Month. A list of university events can be found here. For additional stories, click the "Black Heritage Month" tag on the bottom of the page.