In last year’s annual report, we outlined PCM’s growth over the 2018 – 2019 school year. The Conservatory was on a well-planned, predictable path. By all metrics, PCM was healthy and thriving. Among many highlights, we detailed how our Adult Studies Department had grown exponentially. We discussed the upcoming launch of Mariachi Pasadena! — an exciting program led by three time Grammy Award-winning local Mariachi band leader, Jaime “Jimmy” Cuellar. And we shared stories of inter-department collaborations and concerts with community partners including Vroman’s Bookstore, Laemmle Theaters, and Kidspace Children’s Museum.
This year’s story is different. For the first three quarters, 2019 – 2020 continued along the same dynamic, upward trajectory. Once again, our story was one of growth, ambitious programs, exciting concerts, and uncompromising, high level music education. In mid-March, everything changed…
Part 1: A New Year | Fall & Winter
We kicked off the 2019 – 2020 school year by launching a number of new programs, including:
A Mariachi program led by three time Grammy Award-winning local Mariachi band leader, Jaime Cuellar.
A new-music performing ensemble for adventurous students. Co-directed by Dr. Susan Svrcek and Dr. Nic Gerpe.
Cantare Chamber Choir
An amateur choir for mixed voices led by Ernest Harrison, a graduate student at the University of Southern California, completing a doctoral degree in choral music.
Meanwhile, PCM added more adult studies offerings, increased scholarships from $115,000 to $140,000, and set aside 10 new scholarships for Jefferson students.
Another important development of the 2019 – 2020 school year was the coming-of-age of the Pasadena Conservatory of Music Chamber Music Competition. With three years behind us, the event had earned a national reputation, and as such, the 2020 competition inspired a record number of applicants from a record number music schools, including the Colburn School (CA), the New England Conservatory (MA), Young Chamber Musicians (CA), Chamber Music Connection (OH), Junior Chamber Music (CA), Music Institute of Chicago Academy (IL), CMIT (TX), San Francisco Conservatory of Music (CA), and more. PCM was fast becoming a destination for top pre-collegiate chamber ensembles from all over the country.
We were also having a banner year on the student engagement front — an ever-expanding slate of summer programs was in the works, our alumni network was in development, and we booked so many spring senior recitals that, for the first time, we ran out of wall space in the front lobby.
Part 2: Shutdown | Spring
Only a couple weeks into our spring quarter, the pandemic arrived. Following state guidelines and to help protect public health, PCM closed its campus. Like schools and institutions throughout the world, our plans were interrupted and our future was full of unforeseen challenges.
In an effort to confront these challenges, administrators’ roles changed and, in a matter of days, we pivoted from school life on campus to distance learning. We onboarded students, faculty, and families to the zoom platform and offered personal, on-demand technical support to ensure everyone who wanted to was able to remain an active member of the PCM community. The shift was an all-hands-on-deck effort that required a humbling and inspiring amount of buy-in from faculty, staff, families, and supporters.
In an effort to keep our community connected during the Safer at Home order, we introduced Keep Calm and Play On, a wide-reaching initiative in which we shared stories, images, and videos of students and faculty members practicing, performing at home, and attending/giving distance learning lessons, via daily social media posts, blog posts, and a weekly newsletter.
With individual lessons and group classes up and running, we began offering new programs specifically geared toward distance learning. We presented virtual webinars, launched an alumni podcast, offered classes on recording music at home, and temporarily rebranded Mansions & Music to Musical Interludes — filmed versions of the now cancelled concerts.
Part 3: Aftermath | Summer
By summer, we had hit our stride. We were presenting recitals again (virtually), we premiered our first Musical Interludes concert, and had managed to retain 90% of our individual lesson students and many of our group classes.
With an eye toward fall, we monitored the evolving city, county, and state guidelines, and consulted with the Pasadena Public Health Department. Our task force developed plans and protocols for a phased re-opening of campus. However, as planning continued, a difficult reality became clear: the fall quarter would be online.
By mid-July planning for the new school year was in full swing. We optimized the programs that worked well online, added several new classes, and created new opportunities for students and faculty to perform. In an effort to galvanize our community into starting the new year on the right foot, we launched Practice-a-thon 2020, a school-wide challenge for students and faculty of all ages, levels, and instruments to practice and help raise funds for music scholarships.
Thanks to our supporters, families, faculty, and staff — all of whom met unprecedented challenges head-on, even while negotiating significant disruption in their own lives and communities — we weathered the initial storm caused by the pandemic and remain energized and optimistic that one day soon we’ll welcome everyone back to campus and enjoy music at PCM together again.