"Why do people love music? That’s an age-old question," said Richard Russell, the associate director of the Mannes College the New School for Music Extension Division. "It speaks to something in the soul. People have a calling for it."
The extension division at Mannes, located on West 85th Street, is a continuing education program for adults looking to strum strings, play keys, blow horns and sing. Russell himself is a composer who has worked for the department since 1999. Throughout the years, he has seen New Yorkers from all backgrounds come through the doors of Mannes with the hope of learning a new instrument—the most popular classes they offer are acoustic guitar and jazz piano for beginners.
"This is not the best program in the world if you want to learn ‘Mozart wrote this and Beethoven wrote that,’" said Russell. "It’s about doing. We’re a very hands-on division."
The interactive group classes at Mannes have no more than 10 students per class, with some beginner courses even capping off at five. "Teachers will give you their home phone number," said Russell on the personal attention offered to each aspiring musician. Russell works personally with prospective students, eager to put them on the road to instrumental success. "People who fit in best are those who used to play, fell out and are looking to start up again," he said.
Igal Kesselman, director of the Lucy Moses School at the Kaufman Center on West 67th Street, finds the same is true in his music department. "We have people from all walks of life and all levels, but the majority are adults who used to play when they were kids," said Kesselman. "They think, ‘Now I have the time! Now I know it’s exciting!’" Lucy Moses is the largest community arts school in the city, with students ranging in age from 18 to 90. Despite the growing number of students—approximately 300 join the program each year—class and workshop sizes rarely exceed 12.
While guitar and piano classes are the biggest hits at these institutions, each offers one-on-one instruction for other instruments as well. Once students grasp the basics, they can move up to ensemble classes like Mannes’ flute ensemble, where 60 people play collectively. The schools make sure that, once in a larger setting, students are placed with others on the same level. "We don’t want anybody to be frustrated," said Russell. "We do our best to accommodate everyone’s needs."
The most exciting time for the schools is performance season, when students can showcase their talents. "We have great resources for performing opportunities," Kesselman said of the Lucy Moses recital halls. Each semester is wrapped up with a much-anticipated concert on campus.
For those whose work schedules and other time constraints make signing up for a semester a difficult commitment, schools like Encore School of Music and Turtle Bay Music School can offer similar instruction and chances to perform for an audience.
Located on East 52nd Street, Turtle Bay offers five-week introductory courses in the instrument of your choice, along with monthly performance nights. Encore has locations in Brooklyn and Queens as well as the Upper East Side and offers lessons in saxophone, bass, clarinet and others. Students looking to brush up on old skills or take their talent to a new level can choose the style of their instruction—from blues guitar to rock ‘n’ roll drums.
"It’s about people dipping their toes in the water, stepping out of their comfort zone," said Russell. "It’s the joy of playing music and challenge of trying something new that keeps the programs running each year."
Manhattan music classes:
Turtle Bay Music School 244 E. 52nd St., 212-753-8811; 5-week introductory course, $245. Begins October.
Mannes College the New School for Music Extension Division 150 W. 85th St., 212-580-0210; 15-week semester, $450.
Lucy Moses School at Kaufman Center 129 E. 67th St., 212-501-3300; 12-week semester, $335.
Encore School of Music 315 Madison Ave., 800-417-4620; Prices vary by location.