One casual remark spoken over 20 years ago started a ripple effect that is still changing lives. During a spontaneous conversation with then Director of Music Jim Johnston, a concerned First Church parent mentioned the lack of music lessons offered in Bonita Springs. This led to a proposal to establish a music school offering a broad spectrum of learning and performing opportunities for all ages.
The Community Music School opened its doors in September of 1998. In the first semester, six teachers offered lessons in piano, violin, viola, guitar, French horn, percussion and flute to 30 students. One year later, 12 instructors were on board and student enrollment had more than doubled. Currently, there are nearly 100 students and as many as 17 instructors.
“I was fortunate to be one of the six original instructors in 1998,” said current Director Cheryl Bauer. “It was apparent to me then that this school was unique. With the church’s mission and values as its foundation, emphasis was on student progress rather than profit. Over the course of 20 years, this outreach ministry has touched many in our community—from young students who might not be able to take lessons without financial assistance to affluent seniors pursuing a new hobby or renewing a skill from long ago.”
In 2005 Assistant Director of Music Peter Lewis was named Director of the music school. In August 2007, the school was rebranded as the First Academy of Music and the Johnston Merit Scholarship was established, named to honor the school’s founding Executive Director and the church’s retired Music Director.
Ticket sales from the Fine Arts Series, created in 2007 by Director of Sacred Arts Jeff Faux, help to raise funds for the First Academy financial aid program; additional funding comes from generous First Church members. This assists families of deserving students 18 and under to afford private music lessons.
In 2011, Cheryl Bauer was promoted to Director of the Academy. With a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s in flute performance, she has experience in both education and music, and has taught flute for over 40 years.
“At First Academy, we value the importance of music-making as an educational and personal endeavor,” Cheryl added. “We want our students to experience the thrill of accomplishment and personal creative expression, and to enjoy the benefits of music-making for the rest of their lives.”