Conservatory reaches out to area high schools: Programs enhance performing arts options

Kharissa Forte

The UMKC Conservatory program, “Conservatory in the Schools,” aims to engage the community by providing high-quality performing arts instruction in school districts throughout the Kansas City metro area.

The program began in 2007 and was limited to Paseo High School. Now, Conservatory in the Schools serves Paseo, Hickman Mills and other KCMO schools as well as the Kansas City Kansas School District, reaching approximately 400 students at 20 schools..

Musical Bridges joined Composers in the Schools and Ensembles in the Schools as a part of the Conservatory in the Schools program.

Composers in the Schools is classroom-based, and various composers teach music students about topics such as composition, music technology, world music, music theory and music history. At the end of the year, they host an annual competition in which middle and high school students compete with their original pieces.

“It’s amazing what these kids come up with. They are so creative,” said Dr. Mara Gibson, director of community music and dance at the Conservatory.

A composer and pianist, Gibson moved to Kansas City from the East Coast with her husband, a visual artist, who was offered a job at the Kansas City Art Institute.

The transition to Kansas City   proved to be a good move for Gibson and her husband.

“It couldn’t be a better community for us,” she said. “We have a son now, it’s affordable. We’re really happy in Kansas City.”

Last summer, her saxophone crescendo debuted in a music festival in Thailand. She also sponsors a composition workshop at UMKC every summer that attracts students from all over the world.

“Last year, we had over 40 students participate,” she said.

Ensembles in the Schools focuses on sectional coaching.

“We send our folks in to help assist teachers with coaching woodwinds and coaching strings,” Gibson said.

Musical Bridges is the most selective of the programs. Since the program began five years ago, the enrollment has expanded from seven to 50 students.

The students play a variety of instruments.

“They get a lot of instruction in their classes, but it’s really that one-on-one mentorship that distinguishes them from other students that are applying for the Conservatory and who are really thinking about going into a career in music,” Gibson said.

The overall mission  is not to create music majors. Gibson said the program intends  to give students opportunities by assisting in acceptance to their first college  choice.

“It’s not just about music, it’s about the whole kid and about creating as many opportunities [as possible],” she said.

Statistically, Musical Bridges has a 100 percent success rate. Every student in the program has received acceptance  into his or her preferred college.

World-renowned composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain has formed a special connection with the Musical Bridges program.

“After I was invited to participate, I researched Musical Bridges and I was instantly and immediately impressed with the sincerity of the program. Certainly, I feel that it is an effective program. Everyone there is deeply committed to the program and the success of the students. The students themselves are full of energy and wonder,” he said.

In April, Roumain worked with the program’s students and accompanied them in a performance at the gala. This year, the students will practice Roumain’s music over the course of the school year before meeting with him to create a brand new sound, most likely an improvisation, according to Gibson. Roumain will also meet with students at the Conservatory to incorporate dance into the gala, scheduled for Friday, April 26.

“We’re hoping to embed it a little bit more,” Gibson said. “Instead of having just the musical bridges component, then the conservatory component, then the ensemble component, we want it to be a little more fused.”

The purpose of the gala is to raise funds to expand the program and  award scholarships for music students in the under-represented populations of the Kansas City area.

Conservatory in the Schools has various events in addition to next year’s gala, such as Conservatory Connections, in which Conservatory students perform various compositions in galleries throughout the Nelson-Atkins Museum. The Academy, the Conservatory’s outreach to the community, offers various classes for the public to enjoy.

For more information about Conservatory in the Schools and The Academy visit For more information about Roumain, visit

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