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Pasadena Conservatory of Music is Pasadena's best kept secret

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Pasadena's Conservatory of Music Suzuki String Group Recital at the Masonic Temple.
Rick Meyer
Pasadena's Conservatory of Music Suzuki String Group Recital at the Masonic Temple.

Although its made quite the noise in the classical music world, the Pasadena Conservatory of Music is relatively unknown to most Pasadena residents.

The Pasadena Conservatory of Music could be the city's next iconic landmark. Hidden behind shady trees a block north of Pasadena City College, most locals have never heard the robust music inside the building's closed doors. But in the past month the Conservatory has raked in a cool million in just two grants alone and hopes to raise much more.

Students start studying early at the conservatory, sometimes as young as four years old. After putting in hours of after school lessons, they learn to turn the creaks and cranks of their violins into sweet, soothing music.
A few of these kids will study vigorously throughout their adolescence and leave the conservatory on a path to become classically trained musicians.

Like twelve year old Veronica Mansour, a student at Cleveland Middle School who started playing the cello since at just four years old.

Although she already sounds like a pro, Veronica is modest and sincere about her love for the cello. She says the sound of the cello is what initially drew her to the instrument.

"Well when I was four years old I heard it on a recording that my mom was playing in the house and I really loved the sound and I told my parents that I wanted to play it," said Mansour.

One could call that fate, I suppose. How many four year olds are there who are inextricably drawn to classical music? Very few, by my estimate.

The conservatory has called its present location home since the 1990s. It's a converted mortuary, full of floors that give way slightly as you walk down various hallways.

And as you walk up the creaky staircase near the entrance, you hear a bizarre, dark medley of noises. But despite the strange sound, the conservatory's vibe is fun. Younger siblings run around playing while parents smile in admiration and the older kids' cello ensemble practices.

Veronica's Mom, Laurie Mansour, says the conservatory plays a huge role in her kids lives.

"My kids started here when Alex was three and my daughter was a year and half so. I don't remember our lives before the conservatory and what it's done for them for their brain development, for their socialization, their musicality, the way they view the world I think has been completely influenced by the music and the teachers they've had here."

And all the students are pleased to be studying. And that's something I didn't get when I was 6, 12, 15, or really, ever! But where do these kids come from, and how do they get to study at the conservatory?

Beverly La Fontaine is the marketing director for the conservatory. She says that they don't use an applicant's talent as a gauge for admission but rather focus on the student's desire and commitment to studying music.

According to La Fontaine, the conservatory aims to raise 7 and a half million dollars. Even though that sounds like nearly impossible, the conservatory has already raised over five and a half million. The Conservatory serves about 1200 students right now, La Fontaine says that'll change, too.

"Quite frankly we're aiming for an enrollment of 1500 to 1600 students over the next, I'd say three to five years."

That means the conservatory will have to expand, because where are they going to put all those cellos, tubas and bassoons?

"Last May we bought the property next door to us which was formerly a church, and we're now in that property. And when we finish the entire project, we'll have a second story on our back building and that will give us additional classroom space and studio space. Much of the building is not going to begin until next fall, probably it will take another year and a half," said La Fontaine.

La Fontaine says that all parents see the value of music education for their kids and that studying classical music just plain adds value to student's lives.

And Laurie Mansour can vouch for that.

"It was just an amazing blessing that we found the conservatory and ten years later, thirteen years later, we're here three times a week four times a week, my kids study multiple instruments, I can't have any understanding of what it would be like if they hadn't been here."

So with all of this new cash raised, the Pasadena Conservatory of Music might go from Pasadena's best kept secret to its newest cultural epicenter by as early as this Fall.

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