Music For All

The Reilly Arts Center’s OSO Community Music Conservatory is off to a rousing start.

Kathryn Poore and Annaleigh Kosuchowski

The Reilly Arts Center is named in honor of Robert Reilly, a philanthropist and patron of the arts who donated a large sum of money toward the initial renovation of the former city auditorium in memory of his late wife, Bonnie. 

That renovation was completed in 2015 and another renewal and expansion project was launched in late 2020. In between those endeavors, Pamela Calero Wardell, executive director of the Reilly, which is the home of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra (OSO), recalls boardroom conversations in which “Bob Reilly wanted to see something that brought together seniors and youth.”

When floor plans were defined for the recent expansion, they included plenty of space for educational programming. The OSO Community Music Conservatory, a gift of the David and Lisa Midgett Foundation, has succeeded in meeting Bob Reilly’s goal. Since classes began in June, the conservatory has seen a range of ages and interests in students. 

“Our oldest student is in his 80s and our youngest is 6,” shares Margaret Dixon, the Reilly’s director of education and community outreach. “We’ve had students join who have played one instrument and are hoping to play another, some who are picking up an instrument for the first time and others who are just coming for more help on an instrument they are already playing. We even had grandparents and their grandkids home from college come to our Music with the Maestro lecture series together.”

Linda Howell, 67, is taking violin lessons through the conservatory. She says she tried group lessons eight years ago but was disappointed with the results.

“When I saw what they had to offer was one-on-one, it interested me,” she says of the conservatory. “The fee is reasonable and I liked how the program was presented. I feel playing the violin is a challenge and I love the sound of it. There are many songs I would like to master and, at some point, maybe play with other musicians for fun. I would encourage people to take advantage of the program. It is very well organized. I love the teacher and her method of teaching.”

Calero Wardell says the conservatory’s central mission is to provide music education for all. 

“No matter the age, skill level or economic background—we maintain a commitment to providing access to anyone who wants to learn more about music,” she notes. “We are fortunate to be able utilize the unique opportunities and talent that we have with the Ocala Symphony Orchestra and Reilly Arts Center in this endeavor. This includes instruction by world-class musicians, opportunities to perform with members of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra and enriching classes that enhance daily life and concert experiences.”

Margaret Dixon

The conservatory, or CMC, offers private instruction on almost every band and orchestra instrument, as well as for guitar, electric bass, folk strings, piano and drums. There are group classes for younger musicians in orchestral strings (violin, viola and cello), bucket drumming and brass instruments. There are lecture-style classes for students of all ages and musical aptitudes, which cover subjects from symphony basics to features on specific composers and musical styles. 

“New classes are introduced each semester and we have some exciting programs on the horizon that include steel drum bands, KinderMusik programming and more,” Calero Wardell adds. “We have seen growth each month as new students continue to register, more instructors join our team and we are able to connect with our community. It’s been going great so far and is exciting to see the growth take place. Right now, we are really working on connecting with school music programs, getting the word out to our community, and building the student scholarship program. It is our ultimate goal that at least half of the spots in our classes and lessons are available to those who need financial support (and that we have that support to give them).”

Buckets and Boomwhackers class

Dixon says the curriculum for conservatory classes was created by the instructors and revolves around the specific ability and progress of each individual student or class of students. 

“The structure and offerings of the CMC as a whole are things that I had spent several years brainstorming and putting together,” she shares. “After close to two decades of working with schools and community programs and teaching privately, I kept running into the same basic community needs over and over again. And that’s what I based our structure and class offerings off of. What is it that people need and how can we bridge the gap between music and school, and music for life?”

She says the overall goal is to teach anyone who wants to learn. 

“There are different classes to reach different age groups and skill levels,” Dixon explains. “With our scholarship program, we hope to target young students who really want to learn but need the financial support. Additionally, the conservatory is a place where we hope to see a family unit growing together in their love and appreciation of music. Through the various group classes and lifelong learning style lectures, there’s a fit for everyone.”

Performance spaces at the Reilly include teaching studios, the 700-seat mainstage auditorium and the NOMA Black Box theater. In that space one Saturday morning in late July, about 20 students in grades 3-8 participated in the Buckets and Boomwhackers class, which is an introduction to basic rhythm and percussion. And when you put eager youngsters together with drumsticks, upside down buckets and plastic tubes, you will experience plenty of percussion!

Natalie Dib, whose son Oliver, 10, was among the group, said he had been taking drumming lessons at a local church.

“He has never played in a group before and I wanted him to experience music with a group so he could see where he is and have interaction with other kids his age and with the same interests,” she offers. “We’ll see how he likes this.”

Dixon says the group classes “will grow with our students.”

“A family may enroll in a mommy and me class with their infant and, after a few years, that child may go into a bucket drumming class and then into a steel pan ensemble and maybe into a community band or orchestra group,” she enthuses. “In private lessons, each lesson should push you further in your playing and development. We hope that lifelong musical learning will happen at the conservatory.” 

Lisa Midgett says she and her husband, David, made their sponsorship gift for the music conservatory in memory of their mothers, who both were singers. His mother also was an educator. She says the conservatory’s goal of offering access to affordable lessons fulfills the mission of their foundation.

Kathryn Poore and Linda Howell

“We love any initiative that makes art accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay,” she explains. “A child’s involvement in the arts is important to all of us, as statistics have shown that a student who participates in the arts outperforms their peers from 14 percent to 20 percent in English, math and social studies. For the next generation of leaders, the arts are a necessary part of their education.”

As for the long-range goals for the program, Calero Wardell says, “I always like to say that, in a nutshell, the goal of the CMC is to provide quality music education from birth to earth!”

She says the conservatory fills the gap between learning an instrument in school and being proficient enough to play in a community ensemble or a professional ensemble. 

“We are the place where adults can come to pick up a new hobby, family members of all ages can bond through music, or where an aspiring band student comes to get the help they need to get into their dream school,” she notes. “The music industry can be cumbersome and difficult to navigate without the right connections. We provide those connections and serve to level the playing field; we ensure that everyone has access to quality music education and the tools that they need to be successful.” OS

To learn more about the Community Music Conservatory, go to

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