Last night I attended a fundraiser for the Washington Conservatory of Music (WCM), sponsored and hosted by K&L Gates law firm. The proceeds will fund music lesson scholarships for students who cannot afford them.
It was a lovely spring evening. Guests sipped signature blue martinis and listened to the sweet sounds of a live jazz quartet that featured conservatory faculty, a student scholarship recipient, and a former K&L Gates attorney. I’d like to think that lawyers working late hours throughout the twelve-story downtown DC building could hear the wafting sounds of jazz floating up to their cubicles.
The Washington Music Conservatory is an alternative “boutique” neighborhood music school that runs a community orchestra, provides master’s music lessons on both a scholarship and affordable tuition basis, and sponsors a community concert series. The school’s enrollment is smaller than other DC counterparts (about 600 students), but the WCM holds a coveted national accreditation and offers a personal one-on-one experience to its students, young and old alike, setting it apart from larger community music schools.
And unlike many for-profit music schools, the conservatory does not turn away students based on their audition, in accord with their vision that everyone should have the opportunity to study with the very best music international artists—and with the masters: Schumann, Mozart, Liszt, Beethoven, Holst. The school has never turned away a scholarship applicant.
I had delightful conversations with the WCM’s leadership. The board chair is a partner at K&L Gates, a one-time participant in the conservatory’s community orchestra, and now passionate spokeswoman on the impact music has on the mind and the heart—especially as a lawyer and in Washington, a city that tends to prize left-brained achievement over artistic experience.
The conservatory’s executive director believes that the practice of music is a model for diplomatic, professional, and personal relationships. If world leaders negotiating for world peace, she says, had to sit down and play chamber music together, then we’d actually achieve world peace.
The practice of music cultivates attention and attentiveness, nurturing the ability in its students to possess simultaneously both a broad and narrow focus. Everybody’s soul needs music—from early elementary children to senior citizens, from low to high income backgrounds, and everyone in between.
Funding for the WCM comes predominantly from individual donors, with only a smaller fraction coming from large grant-making foundations or from government grants. This made me realize that community music schools are a beautiful feature of civil society, the space between the individual and the government, where “the good life” of shared art, music, and culture is pursued.
The sponsoring law firm K&L Gates does work pro bono for the WCM, as well as for an impressive number of other DC charities. There may be an increasing trend in pro bono hours given by DC law firms, especially given decreased government funding for local charities. Plus many firms firms count and compensate lawyers for their pro bono hours.