Earlier this year, a quiet fell over 904 Marshall Ave.
The space’s most recent tenant, Lancaster Conservatory of Music, played its swan song after nearly 80 years in existence. The music school, which spent its last five years at the Marshall Avenue location, announced its voluntary dissolution in April.
But one local organization has a plan to bring music back to the space once more.
Scott Drackley, founder and artistic director of the Penn Square Music Festival, plans to open the Penn Square Music Conservatory at the former home of the Lancaster Conservatory of Music this fall.
Drackley says it’s a natural extension of the festival’s mission, which helps young opera artists get experience and exposure through performance and often brings shows to young audiences in schools.
News of the Lancaster Conservatory of Music’s closing hit home for Drackley — literally. His wife, Phyllis, was a voice instructor at the school.
“When she got an email saying it was going to shut down, I said to her, ‘What can we do?’ ” Drackley says. “It’s such a great space. It sounds like something that we were tailor made to participate in.”
Drackley’s son, an opera singer, was quarantining with his parents. He suggested his father reach out to the Penn Square Music Festival board members, and the elder Drackley says each of them agreed the conservatory’s space was worth pursuing.
“So here we are, starting this in the middle of a pandemic,” Drackley says.
He hopes to have infrastructure in place so lessons can begin in September. Drackley is currently building the Penn Square Music Conservatory’s faculty, and aims to hire 15 to 20 full-time music educators. Some teachers were previously employed at the Lancaster Conservatory of Music.
Drackley says the dedication of volunteers has been crucial to launching the conservatory.
“That, and the commitment of local teachers to continue to provide music education to the community is what makes the conservatory’s initial launch possible,” Drackley says. “The conservatory is designed to be self-supporting.”
It helps that the space was already functioning for music lessons. The building is part of the former Keener Manufacturing Facility owned by Jim and Jennifer Weber of Weber Advertising and Marketing. The space is divided into 10 rooms. One will be an office for Penn Square Music Festival, another will be left as a flexible-use rehearsal room for small ensembles, and eight will serve as studios for private lessons.
“I just see every studio filled, and you hear all this sound coming from everywhere,” Drackley says.
The one sound you won’t hear, though, is drums. Drackley says the insulation isn’t quite adequate enough to pad the sound of percussion.
He does plan for the conservatory to offer lessons in voice, piano, wind instruments, brass instruments, traditional and electric guitar, bass, ukulele and violin, just to name a few. He also plans to offer courses in jazz studies, with the hopes of developing a jazz ensemble from the conservatory’s students.
Lessons will be available to students of all skill levels and ages, meaning a 3-year-old may begin Suzuki violin lessons, and in the next room over an adult may be plucking the keys of a piano for the very first time.
He hopes it will be a resource for students in public school music programs who have developed a good base, but want to expand their experience with one-on-one instruction. There are also plans to explore scholarship opportunities for students facing economic hardship, Drackley says.
Drackley says the conservatory will also offer the first lessons free to all students to allow them to explore private instruction freely.
If things go according to plan, Penn Square Music Conservatory’s efforts will be heard throughout the county, not just in the rehearsal spaces. Drackley says he’d like to see ensembles from the conservatory perform at First Friday and Music Friday events downtown.
“The lessons are great. You take the lessons and they go home and practice, but what’s the end game?” Drackley says. “The end game is they like to perform. They like to feel good about it.”
Of course, with threats of COVID-19 looming large, Drackley and his fellow board members have measures in place to move forward with lessons safely in September. He offered the following statement on the conservatory’s health and safety plan.
“Penn Square Music Conservatory holds the health of our teachers and students as our top priority,” the statement reads. “We will be following the CDC guidelines for every lesson, including sanitizing contact surfaces between every lesson, and requiring social distancing and masks whenever possible. We also give the option, if you as the student or parent feel unsafe, to continue expanding your talents online with our teachers.”
There’s no doubt that this year presents many challenges. But that’s also exactly why Drackley is excited to share this new endeavor.
“I think everybody at this point is kind of starved for the arts,” Drackley says. “They want something.”