Piano Cottage in Grand Rapids Creates a Home for Young Musicians

By Jane Whitttington on March 31st, 2015 / Comments

The Piano Cottage didn’t start with a meticulously detailed business plan complete with market analysis and financial forecasts. It started with one teacher and one piano and organically grew (and grew) with the input of students, parents and teachers. Today The Piano Cottage has 16 teachers, more than 250 students, a new facility and a musical presence in Grand Rapids that could not have been imagined even a few years ago.

Jody Deems-McCargar offered private piano lessons in her home for several years. When she and her husband, Wright McCargar, a well-known Grand Rapids musician, were house-hunting, they found a house which offered the bonus of a small cottage out back which had been used as an artist’s studio. It was the perfect solution—Jody could teach in the “piano cottage” while Wright gave lessons on the grand piano in the house. More and more students sought out the Piano Cottage, drawn by a growing reputation and excellence in instruction. They added a percussion teacher, a voice teacher, a violin teacher, a guitar teacher. And they kept growing. They grew so much that, this year, they moved into a building dedicated to the teaching of music. With one large room and many smaller studios, five or six lessons can take place at the same time. In addition, they have teachers making music with their students in four private homes.

According to Jody, “We noticed that there was a drop off of interest around middle school, and we wanted to figure out a way to keep students interested and engaged. These older students told us that they wanted the opportunity to play not just classical but also contemporary music. They wanted to arrange music, write music and perform. “

This was the start of Piano Cottage Rocks!. In 2011, Piano Cottage students took to the stage of a local theatre. After weeks of rehearsal, enthusiastic young musicians put on a rambunctious, high-energy rock concert. The kids loved it, and so did the public. The second year, they put on the concert two nights and sold out both nights. This year’s event will be held July 23 and 24 with tickets going on sale April 1.

The first concert raised about $2,000, and Jody went to the students to ask what they would like to do with the money, expecting that they were want a big party. However, one student said, “My neighbor would love to take music lessons, but he can’t afford it. Could we use some of the money for that?” The other students were enthusiastic about the idea, and decided that the very best use of the music was to provide lessons for those who might not otherwise have the opportunity. That’s when The Crescendo Foundation had its start. Today, they have accepted close to 20 students for free or very low-cost music instruction. The Foundation is now overseen by a board (which includes students) and is dedicated to continuing its mission. Besides monies raised by Piano Cottage Rocks! they accept private donations and have held other fundraising events and have applied for grants.

As Piano Cottage grew, some students wanted to work together and form a band. Fire Alarm was the result. Five highly enthusiastic young people, ages 10 to 14, singing, playing keyboard, guitar and drums make up Fire Alarm. They have performed throughout the community and, this year, won the Grand Rapids’ Got Talent competition, earning the musicians $1,000 and a chance to perform at the GR New Year’s Eve celebration. They were invited to audition for America’s Got Talent and recently traveled to Chicago for the audition. They are still waiting to hear if they will be part of the show.

Today, Piano Cottage also includes a Girls’ Chorus and a newly formed Boys’ Chorus. Inspired by the success of Fire Alarm, two new girls’ bands have formed.

Last summer, Piano Cottage performed as an opening act at Meijer Gardens. They were so successful that this year they have been invited back as headliners. This concert will be July 14.

According to Jody, “This is just a dream come true for us. It happened because our students and teachers wanted it to happen. And Wright and I wanted it to happen too, though we could never have predicted just how successful it has become. It’s exciting to see it change and grow. When you love what you do as much as we do, it doesn’t seem like work.”

For more information about The Piano Cottage, visit www.thepianocottagegr.com

About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.