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Jody Deems-McCargar


The Crescendo Foundation

1400 Colorado Avenue SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49507

Jody Deems-McCargar keys young musicians up with Crescendo

Fueled by their passion and shared belief that it’s their privilege to cultivate young people’s love of music, husband and wife duo Wright McCargar and Jody Deems-McCargar established the Crescendo Foundation in 2012. In its brief existence, the Crescendo Foundation has garnered the attention and favor of the community and its schools, and made an immeasurable impact on the lives of talented and committed young people.

“The original idea for the Crescendo Foundation was kid-based,” Deems-McCargar said. “Many young people who have had music lessons for several years through the Piano Cottage realize music is making a huge difference in their lives and appreciate what it can to do for others. They want more kids to experience it. Some know kids personally who want to take music lessons but come from families who can’t afford it.”
The Piano Cottage, located in southeast Grand Rapids, is home base for music taught by the McCargars, along with Zachary Kolkman and Kyle Young, who also serve on the foundation board. Additional instructors offer lessons at students’ homes or in their own homes. Dean Wiers-Windemuller of Southtown Guitar provides guitar lessons at his store. Currently, there are eight teachers and over 150 students at The Piano Cottage. Less than ten students have scholarships through the Crescendo Foundation.
Deems-McCargar, a Suzuki method piano instructor, began giving lessons in her home over 25 years ago. Her husband, Wright, who retired recently to work full time with the Piano Cottage and the foundation, was a public school teacher and band director.
Winner of six local Grand Awards, McCargar is often referred to as a “musical genius” by fellow musicians and teachers. On Friday afternoon, he may be instructing students from 5 to 15 years old in everything from classical to rock music. That night, he could be at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre where he serves a musical director. On Saturday evening, he may have a gig with a band. Come Sunday morning, he’s playing at a church service.
“We all think it’s great to have someone with diverse talents like Wright has at the helm of our organization,” Deems-McCargar said. “He is an inspiration.”
The McCargars found that children love music lessons until about middle school, and then their interest may start to wane.
“We began to look for ways to engage students and keep up their enthusiasm,” she said. “Many of the older kids want to learn how to play songs they listen to on their iPods.”
The Piano Cottage instructors began incorporating pop, rock, and jazz in lessons for the students who wanted to learn it. That’s when many of the older kids really started connecting with the music and with each other. Duos, ensembles and bands emerged.
In July 2012, the Piano Cottage held its first rock concert at the Wealthy Theatre, “The Piano Cottage Rocks!”
“It was a big process but it taught the kids how to put on a full-scale concert,” Deems-McCargar said. “They learned how to do lighting and sound, stage sets, and design T-shirts.”
The first rock concert drew a large crowd and the students who put the event on had money left over. A brainstorm session on what to do with the concert profits began with talk of a pizza party and closed with students excited about their idea of providing music lessons to kids who can’t afford them.
After this meeting, the McCargars, a few instructors, and several parents agreed a nonprofit could function through the collaborative work and commitment of students, teachers, and parents. Work began on establishing the foundation.
“Many of our students recognize there are kids who don’t have the money for lessons, books, or an instrument. They’re also aware of school districts that have cut back on funding for music programs,” said Deems-McCargar.
The Crescendo Foundation’s mission is to provide access to tuition-free, life-changing music education in a variety of formats –- piano, guitar, percussion, voice, and more – to help underserved young people in West Michigan succeed in music and in life.
The foundation operates under the direction of a nine-member board of directors with a four-member Youth Leadership Council of high school students who perform a variety of tasks, one being contributing to the selection of foundation students. Nominations for students are taken from local public schools.
The foundation logo was created by graphic design students at East Kentwood High School, along with the tagline, “Changing lives, one note at a time.”
Ashton Cole, a fifth grader from Caledonia, was thrilled to be awarded a foundation scholarship this past year. Ashton is the oldest of four musically talented children in his family. He was recommended to the foundation for percussion, guitar, and piano lessons. Now taught weekly by Wiers-Windemuller, Ashton’s father reported that he is in “music heaven.” Ashton said music was once a "pounding heartbeat inside him” that he now is able to express.
NaiKayla “KK” Gates takes weekly piano instruction through a foundation scholarship.
“KK’s grandmother is Lisa Whitley-Butler, a nationally known gospel and R&B singer, so KK came to us with tremendous musical background,” Deems-McCargar said. “She has the ability to hear and sing harmonies, feel and play syncopated rhythms, near perfect pitch.”  
Only seven years old, KK has musical intuition although she has never had one-on-one instruction before her lessons this year.
“It is a delight to watch her learn,” Deems-McCargar said. 
The 2013 two-night rock concert to support the Crescendo Foundation highlighted 25 students who auditioned—and were selected—to perform. Many more students participated in promoting, planning, and executing the show. The event even featured students’ handcrafted artwork for sale. The concert was sold out both nights, with all proceeds from admissions, concessions, and artwork going to the foundation.
In addition to attending the annual fundraising rock concert, according to the McCargars, there are a variety of ways others can contribute. A $25 donation pays for one music lesson; a $1,500 donation pays for a year of lessons, books, and transportation to lessons for one student; and a donated piano or musical instrument lets a young person practice at home on something other than a toy keyboard or a drum set of cardboard boxes.
Many of the Piano Cottage students “play it forward” by offering up weekly allowances. Their parents provide transportation to students who have none, assist at concerts or recitals, or serve on the foundation board.
It is the McCargars’ hope as the foundation grows, they can answer more of the calls they receive from teachers, pastors, and parents who know an underserved child with great potential and strong desire to pursue music.
“Music teaches children and young adults self-discipline, how to balance academics with music, and creative problem-solving,” Deems-McCargar said. “It builds self-esteem and confidence.”
To learn more about The Crescendo Foundation and how to “play it forward,” visit www.crescendogr.com
Susan Julien Larimore is a freelance writer in the greater Grand Rapids area. Learn more about her at www.sjlwriter.com

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