Why We're Here

Letter From Tom

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I have taught public high school and middle school music for 12 years and have seen many things, the most inspiring of which is when students dedicate to an art, find potential they didn’t know they had, and utilize their newfound confidence to improve their lives. Ensemble music classes often provide this opportunity, but the most progress is usually made in private lessons, where students engage in a direct dialogue with their unique abilities.


In my personal experience, private music lessons changed my life for the better. I started taking lessons during my senior year of high school and found that building competent skills in an art form in which I found joy and meaning increased my confidence in all areas of my life. Music lessons turned a shy 17-year-old into a brave performer who was willing to risk failure to grow and change.


Taking music lessons is intimidating because there is nowhere to hide. One must first practice with the intention to improve, and honestly come face to face with one’s strengths, faults, and inequities. Then the artist must openly bring that effort to a teacher and present the good and the bad skills, and learn from their expertise. The final step is to display the progress in front of an audience, which is also intimidating. Compelling performance requires a vulnerability that many people never learn, but in that vulnerability is a great strength that every person needs to access to live a true and meaningful life. Excavation of the self is an extremely valuable endeavor rarely taught in schools, but necessary to a life well lived. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


The incredible difference lessons can make in students’ lives is documented in scientific studies, and lived in personal experiences. The unfortunate truth is most families can’t afford private music lessons, and most schools don’t offer them. Every student should have the opportunity to take lessons, but some of the students who desire them the most cannot surmount the barriers standing in their way without some help. We are here to clear the barriers and improve the lives of as many young people as we can, to make the future better than the present for everyone.

Clearing financial barriers. Transforming singers' lives.

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At PACA we believe that quality, high-stakes arts education is for everyone, not just those who can afford it. PACA provides full and partial scholarships so dedicated students can take private music lessons from excellent teachers.


The Performing Arts Conservatory of Atlanta is here to meet the needs of musicians - of student musicians and of teachers of music. Thank you for being here - we are so glad to be part of your music community. 



Letter From Erin

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The study of music is life-changing and transformative and necessary. PACA is delighted to be able to offer opportunities to students - students who should be - who MUST be- in private music lessons. These are the ones who sing because they can't help themselves. 


I never really thought about money. We were always solidly upper-middle class. Money wasn't even a discussion unless I was being taught to balance my checkbook, a lesson I routinely ignored. When my parents got divorced and my mother was so destitute she counted out toilet paper sheets, it was hidden from my brother and me. We just thought ramen noodles were an exotic new part of our balanced diet. When I lived on my own for the first time during my last two years of undergrad, I was so poor that our kitchen literally had mushrooms growing out of the floor and we had to dig for change in the couch to buy groceries, but I knew it would be over soon. I was honestly pretty amused at the whole situation. I enjoy sociology and politics, so I suppose I thought about  poverty in an abstract (and probably wildly inaccurate) way, but it wasn't until my 20s that I really came to see the ways money - both the lack of and the incredible surplus of - acts in people's lives, and the opportunities they are robbed of OR lavishly handed because of it. 


The first day of  my last year of undergrad, a shy freshman sat next to me in our chamber group. Her voice was AMAZING, but she was clearly behind technically and academically. As we became friends, she explained to me that when she was in high school, she really wanted to take voice lessons but no one would teach her because she couldn't afford it. No one would even teach her at a reduced rate. Her story hurts my heart every time I tell it. 


It is the policy of my private voice studio to never turn a student away because of money. What I have found more and more, though, is that this is an impossible policy. The need is too great. When teachers have to pay their bills, they simply can't take on the students they wish they could. 


In my early 20s, I was discussing the possibility of starting a nonprofit for this very purpose with a client of mine. She was a physician and her husband was a radiologist. I was living in an apartment by myself just starting off on my own as a voice teacher. She laughed at the idea of needing a nonprofit and said, "Just teach them for free! That's what I do in my business!" At that point in my life I couldn't afford ketchup, so teaching for free was simply not an option. Nor should it have been. Teachers of music study their whole lives to perfect their craft, and passing along wisdom is a calling that should be valued with a paycheck, just like every other profession. 


It's 12 years later, and I am so grateful to be in the position to teach a few clients on full and partial scholarship. I have reached my limits, though, and I know the need is greater than individual teachers are able to meet on their own. 


The Performing Arts Conservatory of Atlanta is here to meet the needs of musicians - of student musicians and of teachers of music. Thank you for being here - we are so glad to be part of your music community. 

www.erinshepherdmurray.com