The musCLE House: Changing Cleveland with Music

By John Benson

Freelance violinist Ariel Clayton knows firsthand the power and magic that can come from having a musical instrument in your hand.

Today, the area music teacher is hoping to give underprivileged youngsters the same opportunity she had with the brand-new musCLE house initiative, which aims to provide students with a one-hour music lesson in exchange for one hour of philanthropic involvement or community service. In a nutshell, the vision is to give every student in the city of Cleveland a music education while concurrently revitalizing the community one neighborhood at a time.

Still in its infancy, musCLE house is co-founded by Clayton and Carlos Javier and is the vision of Hallie & Eric Kogelschatz. Cool Cleveland talked to Clayton about how musCLE house could be tuneful to Cleveland’s future.

Cool Cleveland: How exactly did the concept for musCLE house get off the ground?

Ariel Clayton: This was the brainchild of Hallie and Eric Kogelschatz. They approached me in the fall of 2011. I’m a professional violin player, a freelancer in the area, and my string quartet played their wedding. So we developed a friendship and they met with me about their ideas about a music outreach program that would offer kids music instruction in underprivileged neighborhoods. This is typically something for privileged families to be able to study instruments, but the kick was it was funded from the outside by grants and private donations. And the kids don’t pay anything but they give back to their own communities so it’s a way for them to foster communities and neighborhoods, which are obviously places of need.

How long has this idea been discussed and has it officially kicked off?

We’ve been in dialogue for well over a year. Carlos Javier joined our team earlier this summer. The four of us formed the team trying to raise money and awareness. The fundraising campaign launched publicly early last week. It’s really in its early stages. We met with Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s (CMSD) Eric Gordon in July and with other partners such as the Food Bank to see who would be willing to support the volunteer aspect of the program for the students. We’re hoping to get it kicked off in 2013.

So how exactly will it work?

Well, there’s going to be in the beginning satellite locations at different CMSD schools to be determined, just depending on the level of interest and the level of funding. The lessons will be provided at these locations and then, based on the number of students, we’ll organize weekly outreach and volunteer work with them. There’s going to be the aspect of instruction and professionals from graduates from the Cleveland Institute of Music, like myself, and other freelance musicians in the area instructing the students.

What makes the model of musCLE so special?

It’s really unique because there is the volunteer aspect attached to it: that students still essentially are paying something but it’s not financially. It’s service to their own neighborhoods, so it’s hopefully a way to improve the social quality of their lives in their own communities.

Why did you want to be involved?

I’m a professional violin teacher and I have 22 of my own students. As much as I love doing that, the most appealing aspect is that I would be able to do that same kind of work in areas of great social need and be able to make that contribution.

Finally, in your opinion how important is music in the lives of kids?

It’s a really important thing. With the students I teach, you see them grow up in front of you not just because they’re getting older but because music really teaches them a lot about their lives and discipline and critical thinking and collaborating and listening. Then also just enjoying music as an art form. Just getting them to have those successes is really special. I remember the first time the violin was put in my hands in the music class at my school. I was totally involved. That’s an amazing thing to see in kids when they first discover music.

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Freelance writer John Benson spends most of his time writing for various papers throughout Northeast Ohio.

When he’s not writing about music or entertainment, he can be found coaching his two boys in basketball, football and baseball or watching movies with his lovely wife, Maria. John also occasionally writes for

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