Studio E, Grinnell School of Music is making a difference in the lives of area children
Erin Bustin, left, is shown with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer after being recognized with the Iowa Arts Council Governor’s Arts Award – Special Recognition for Arts Service for contributions to the arts in Grinnell on March 1.
By J.O. Parker
It was early summer 2017.
Erin Bustin and her husband, Mark Laver, a music jazz professor at Grinnell College, had been living in Grinnell for three years, moving to the area from Toronto, Canada.
A native of Berwick, Nova Scotia, Bustin had been involved in the music and arts management industry in Toronto and had been singing since she was a child and performed in the National Youth Choir of Canada. She also sang in professional choirs in Toronto before moving to Iowa.
After arriving in Grinnell, Bustin wanted to continue working in the arts and music scene. That led to her securing singing opportunities in the Grinnell area.
“People started asking for voice lessons,” she recalled. “A friend of mine, Georgeanna Robinson, who was a choral music singer and mom, said to me, ‘We need a children’s choir.’”
It rang a bell with the two singers. They asked Peggy Parker, a piano and classroom teacher, if she would join them in the venture. She agreed and the three women formed the Grinnell Children’s Choir.
“We put out a call in the summer of 2017 and within six days, we had 30 kids enrolled,” said Bustin.
The interest in music wasn’t a surprise to Bustin, who said, “I thought there was a need for more children’s extra-curricular music (in Grinnell). With the interest (shown) in the children’s choir, that cemented the need.”
The Grinnell Children’s Choir, which is for ages K–5, is still going nearly six years later. Students come from Grinnell and the surrounding area and meet after school on Fridays. During the pandemic, the choir went on-line.
The choir sings at various community events including Jingle Bell Holidays, GHS Homecoming and at The Mayflower.
“We’ve done a church tour (where the choir sang at two or three churches on the same day) and would like to do that again,” said Bustin. “We want to sing at more events around the community.”
This year is special to Bustin, who said some of the first singers who joined the choir when they were in kindergarten in 2017 will finish fifth grade this spring and will graduate from the choir.
In addition to the choir, Bustin continued to teach voice lessons and quickly learned that there was an even greater need for music lessons in the community.
She said people would ask if she knew someone who teaches piano or gives violin lessons?
“Sometimes I was able to help find a teacher,” she said. “That led me to realize there were more students than teachers.”
In 2019, Bustin opened Studio E to meet the need for voice lessons.
In late summer 2021, Bustin moved the school to 819 Broad St. in a former bank building on the corner of Broad and Commercial streets. The school offers piano, voice, guitar, ukulele and saxophone lessons taught by professional local and regional musicians to students of all ages. Bustin continues teaching voice lessons.
She also offers Music Together, a music class for children ages 0-5.
“It’s is the cutest thing ever,” noted Bustin. “It is really fun.”
Governor’s Arts Award
Bustin’s love for music and her work with area youth hasn’t gone unnoticed.
On March 1, Bustin was recognized in a ceremony at the State Historical Building in Des Moines with the Iowa Arts Council Governor’s Arts Award – Special Recognition for Arts Service for contributions to the arts in Grinnell.
“It felt really special to be recognized,” said Bustin. “I love what I do and ultimately I believe that all children should have an opportunity to get involved in music.”
“Erin has a great skill of engaging with young musicians of any ability and interest level and meeting them where they are and helping them grow that musicianship and vocal talent from that starting place,” said Georgeanna Robinson, who helped start the Grinnell Children’s Choir and currently serves as the choir manager.
In addition, Bustin and Robinson are part of Vox Feminae (voice of women), a capella group of women who get together to sing simply for the joy of it. The singers have different backgrounds but share a love for choral singing and have a lot of experience singing.
“Over the years, the act of carving out time to sing in our otherwise busy lives has led to rich friendships and a wonderful sense of community,” said Bustin. “We perform whenever we can pull together a program and we enjoy singing many types of music.”
The group’s next performance is on April 22 at Grinnell UCC, at 7 p.m. Admission is by free will offering.
Studio E / Grinnell School of Music
Studio E currently has 55 active students. The Grinnell Children’s Choir operates as a separate organization, as an outreach and education project of the Grinnell UCC.
Bustin said the school is full every weekday from 3:15 – 6:30 p.m. And as nice as the space is, Bustin said there are some limitation with apartments upstairs, neighboring businesses and only two spaces for private lessons with one being in the main room.
“We couldn’t grow and meet the needs in this space,” she said of the current studio.
That led the Grinnell School of Music to lease the former Michaels Italian Restaurant at 720 5th Ave. earlier this year with an option to buy. Bustin had considered the space earlier, but at the time it wasn’t possible. Now, as a non-profit organization, Bustin has worked with the Board of Directors of the Grinnell School of Music to secure the building.
“The building has tons of features that our current space does not have if we wanted to grow,” she said.
She said there is a one-way alley on the west side of the building providing for a safe drop off and easy access. In addition, the building is freestanding and there are no apartments or other businesses connected.
“It has already been gutted, so we are able to build it to what we need,” said Bustin.
The building will feature a large classroom and three soundproof teaching spaces with a separate entry for easy access.
The Grinnell School of Music was incorporated as a non-profit in July 2022 and has applied for charitable 501 (c) (3) status. A name change is also on the agenda as the Grinnell School of Music will now encompass all of what Studio E offered and more.
The Grinnell School of Music recently unveiled a $625,000 fundraising campaign to purchase the building, complete the renovations and open the school.
Part of the fundraising will include the establishment of a $100,000 endowment fund.
“The goal is to allow us to make lessons affordable (for everyone),” noted Bustin. “We want to be able to subsidize with scholarships to create affordable programing and to pay our teachers a competive wage.”
Other possible uses of the space include rentals for local bands to practice when its available.
Construction on the new space is slated to begin in the fall of 2023 with an opening date of August 2024.
“That is when we plan to be up and running,” said Bustin.
Once the building is complete, Bustin said the Grinnell School of Music will take over all the activities of Studio E, which will be dissolved. The school is under the direction of a volunteer board, and Bustin has been engaged as the Executive Director.
“The new space will allow for more diversity of our programs,” noted Bustin. “We can do more group lessons, classes and summer camps. We do a musical theater summer camp and we will be able to do more of that kind of thing.”
More importantly to Bustin is making music available to all.
“If kids don’t feel like they belong, they can find a place in music,” she said.
If you would like to donate to the Grinnell School of Music, reach out to email@example.com or visit the website, www.grinnellschoolofmusic.org.
Proposed Grinnell School of Music renovation in the former Michaels Italian Restaurant at 720 5th Ave. This picture shows the main classroom space, standing near the front door and looking south towards the back of the building. Design rendering by Generate Design.
Proposed Grinnell School of Music renovation exterior view of the former Michaels Italian Restaurant at 720 5th Ave. Design rendering by Generate Design.Proposed Grinnell School of Music renovation exterior view of the former Michaels Italian Restaurant at 720 5th Ave. Design rendering by Generate Design.
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