When Darlene and Howard Sandifer founded the Chicago West Community Music Center (CWCMC) in 1999 it was because they saw what decades of disinvestment in the city’s youth created. Budget cuts in Chicago Public Schools in 1979 led to generations of students not being exposed to education in music and the arts.

Today Darlene is the managing director and Howard the executive director of the CWCMC, which has a mission to enhance families and communities through music. They believe that arts education promotes entrepreneurship and fosters community development.

Darlene notes, “We started the school because it would not only help kids learn music, but it would help them test better, get into higher tier schools and be able to have careers in music.”

Howard and Darlene Sandifer

The couple started out with 10 violinists, and quickly added more strings, then piano and harp. Today, they serve children from pre-school to high school and beyond.

The WISH class, or Westside Instructional String and Harp class, starts with children as young as four. Darlene calls the program a family-oriented program, explaining that when children are in their private lessons, a parent sits in. She adds, “The parents are learning too. The parents are the teachers at home.”

The CWCMC offers general classes, private lessons, music theory classes, and a master class that transitions into orchestra. Over the years, Darlene says they have expanded their offerings to meet the interests of youth in the community.

She says, “Students in high school might say, ‘I like to make beats.’ They mean they want to make music electronically. We give them a laptop, the software and the controllers.”

The students still are required to learn music theory because she says it’s important to learn how to read music. This past summer, the class focused on the music of New Orleans.

CWCMC also offers a Business of Music class that helps students learn about the business side of music from copyright considerations with sampling to conflict resolution and interviewing skills.

The center partners with the Berklee College of Music. Children in classes in Chicago use a Berklee curriculum at the CWCMC and some participate in a six-week summer program at Berklee in Boston. High School students can apply for a four-year scholarship to the college. Darlene says of the partnership, “It’s actually changed lives for these kids.”

The past few years have not all been smooth. Howard says, “Covid was a challenge, but we made a beautiful transition online. The parents did a really good job of helping their kids stay connected.”

Now that they are back in person, CWCMC is anticipating sharing their music with the community through upcoming concerts on Dec. 8 at the Chicago Cultural Arts Center, where Howard will receive an award for his dedication to music education with children, on Dec. 16 at the Symphony Center to perform before the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the teen orchestra and WISH kids recital will take place on Dec. 17 at the Garfield Park Conservatory. More information about CWCMC can be found at www.cwcmc.org/

Join the discussion on social media!