Music for community’s sake

In north Minneapolis, Hopewell Music Cooperative North fills a need for free lessons - and much more

Many people bemoan the decreasing access to musical instruction. Jaette Carpenter and Ellie Fregni decided to do something about it. In 2012, they founded Hopewell Music Cooperative North. 

The research is abundant: musical training significantly improves brain development. Yet school music programs have been cut, largely due to budget constraints. Moreover, the impact has not been felt uniformly. A 2012 U.S. Department of Education report found that 81 percent of secondary schools with high poverty concentration offered music education, compared with 96 percent of schools with the lowest level of poverty concentration. A poverty gap also existed at the elementary level. 

While teaching at a for-profit music school in north Minneapolis, Carpenter and Fregni realized that various factors – including the economic downturn and the devastating tornado that hit the community in 2011 – had made it harder for families to afford music lessons as public schools were cutting back on music education. 

“We decided we wanted to help more low-income families,” Carpenter says, “so we said, ‘Let’s go start a nonprofit.'” 

Three years later, Fregni says, “we pretty much teach everything” where music is concerned. Fregni focuses on strings; Carpenter teaches piano, guitar and voice. Hopewell has nine teachers on staff. No student is turned away due to income, age, mental or physical disability, or background. 

“We had one ‘angel donor’ who helped get us started,” Fregni says. “Now we’re getting our grantwriting going, but individual donations are still our biggest source of funding.” 

Settling in new space

Hopewell initially rented space in various locations in north Minneapolis. As the organization grew, it branched out to the sanctuary and basement at North United Methodist Church (UMC), about 20 blocks away. Then, in early 2015, a day care center abruptly vacated North UMC – and Hopewell moved in. 

“They left cribs, toys, everything behind,” Carpenter says. 

“It was a real mess,” Fregni adds. 

Having no qualms about sweat equity, they spent February cleaning and March painting walls. Students and their families pitched in, too, seeing a way to give back to the nonprofit that gave them free music lessons. 

“We’re above no barter,” Carpenter notes, grinning. Hopewell accepts a variety of in-kind donations, including (naturally) musical instruments. 

“If people have stories to tell us about the instrument, we’ll take those too,” she adds. 

Why “Hopewell?” 

The nonprofit’s name is itself a story. Many years ago, north Minneapolis had a hospital called Hopewell – the city’s tuberculosis sanatorium. 

“As a kid growing up in north Minneapolis,” Carpenter says, “I remember it as a big, scary place that was all closed down.” 

But the name has another connotation more consistent with the co-founders’ mission. Members of the ancient Hopewell Indian tradition were known for being skilled artisans and for their system of sharing skills and ideas. 

“They were a group that practiced art for art’s sake,” Carpenter says. 

Lessons and ensembles

You might say Hopewell practices music for community’s sake. 

Besides music lessons, it offers weeklong summer music camps and several ongoing ensembles, including a community choir (about 15 members), community orchestra (30 members), jazz ensemble, flute choir and the Peace Singers – a small group of girls and women who sing songs with messages of peace, tolerance and self-esteem. 

The groups perform at senior care centers and community events, and they hold recitals and concerts at north Minneapolis churches. “We want to use music to build community,” Fregni says. 

And the community has responded enthusiastically – in fact, Hopewell recently had to institute a waiting list for the private lesson program. 

As of March 2015, Hopewell had taught nearly $63,000 worth of free and reduced-price lessons, and it had about 200 active students – age 4 through 83. Students still come primarily through word of mouth. About 96 percent of students and participants are from north Minneapolis, and Carpenter and Fregni want to retain that focus. 

“We had one gal call out of the blue from Chaska – ‘Hey, I hear you have free lessons,'” Carpenter says. They were able to refer her to another music school. [[In-content Ad]]

The next Prince

Hopewell is also intentionally intergenerational. Often, a parent (or grandparent) and child sign up together. 

Unfortunately, one grant application was denied because the funder was dubious about the group’s intergenerational focus: They thought the young kids, feeling inferior, would get discouraged. 

Says Carpenter: Um, no. In fact, she says, sometimes the older folks see a youngster playing an instrument and exclaim, “Oh, gosh, I need to go home and practice.” 

“It definitely goes both ways,” Fregni says. 

Who knows? Maybe a Hopewell student will be the next musical sensation. 

“For years, I heard young people singing on street corners who sounded better than what I hear on the radio,” Carpenter says. “There has to be more to come out of north Minneapolis than the Andrews Sisters and Prince.” 

FFI: For information on how to donate money, time or musical instruments, see www.hopewellmusic.com