Susan Carlson, of the Ben Carlson-Berne Scholarship Fund, is proving that a love for classical music can be taught. Founded in 2004, after the untimely passing of their son, Ben, Susan and her husband, Philip Berne, have made a commitment to carry on Ben’s passion for teaching economically disadvantaged youth about the various elements of classical music.
Ben Carlson-Berne grew up in the Cincinnati area, and was a graduate of Wyoming High School. After high school, Ben went on to study Piano and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Starting at an early age Ben wanted to share his passion for classical music with students who may not have had an opportunity to interact with the genre of music. As a teen, Ben taught classical music to younger kids at day camps and summer camps at the Cincinnati Arts Consortium, located in the West End of Cincinnati. When Ben realized they were in need of a piano, he arranged for one to be donated to the Arts Consortium. Then, when Ben realized that the kids he was teaching did not have access to a piano at home, he worked to have pianos donated and delivered, so the students would be able to practice.
“Ben liked all kinds of music! He was really a guy’s guy. He was handsome, and enjoyed playing Frisbee Golf and hiking,” said Susan.
Tragically, in 2002, Ben lost his life as a result of a hiking accident. Within two short years, Susan and Phillip created the Ben Carlson-Berne Scholarship Fund to carry on his legacy and continue spreading his love for classical music to disadvantaged youth.
Ben knew that if more children were exposed to classical music, they might enjoy it, too. So in addition to teaching students to play classical music, the Ben Carlson-Berne Scholarship Fund hopes to diversify the classical music audience as well. “Not all of our students go on to be classical musicians, but having been introduced to this genre, many have been transformed into classical music enthusiasts,” added Carlson.
In today’s school environment, many students do not have access to music education. The organizers of the BCB Scholarship Fund hope to change that, and give more kids the kind of experience their son had. The organization accepts applications from students beginning as young as the 6th grade. The students are selected based upon need, plus their level of interest and commitment. Once a student is accepted into the BCB program, the organization commits to providing them with paid lessons, with an individual instructor, throughout their high school career. “We don’t cherry-pick the students. We understand that kids with interest or recognizable talent don’t always have the financial resources to pay for private lessons.” Additionally, the program has no academic prerequisites. Maintaining interest and commitment, and performing in the annual Ben Carlson-Berne Student Recital is the only requirement to stay in the program, once accepted.
Many of the instructors in the program are performing artists themselves. Some of the instructors even play professionally as part of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The organization relies on its artistic partner, concert:nova, to help them find high-caliber instructors willing to work with the students. The BCB Scholarship Fund tries to keep the kids with the same instructor throughout their time in the program, though this is not always possible. The goal is to allow the student and instructor to build a mentoring relationship during their time together. Ideally, the instructors encourage the students to put forth their best effort in everything that they do, even things that aren’t related to music.
Initially, the program was only available to 8th -12th grade students. However, the organization has recently expanded, and began working with four 6th grade students at Oyler School, providing them with group violin lessons. Another new program, created in part by BCB, is the addition of private lessons to support the orchestra at Withrow University High School. Thanks to the continued effort put forth by Carlson and Berne, partnering with the Withrow High School Alumni Association and CPS, the urban high school is now teaching lessons to 21 orchestra musicians. Furthermore, the BCB Fund has been able to add a coordinator to help administer the program.
Terrence Wilson, an internationally celebrated pianist, will be returning to play in the Ben Carlson-Berne Benefit Concert on January 12, 2020, at School For Creative & Performing Arts. Terrence and Ben first connected in 1998. The two quickly bonded, spending the entire afternoon together, playing music and talking about common interest.
Wilson felt so strongly about Ben’s mission to introduce economically disadvantaged children to classical music that he reached out to Susan Carlson to offer his services for the upcoming fundraising event.
A great way to support the Ben Carlson-Berne Fund is by attending the January 12 Benefit Concert. Learn more and purchase your tickets online.
Activities Beyond the Classroom is proud to serve as the fiscal sponsor for Ben Carlson-Berne Scholarship Fund. Providing administrative support to small organizations such as BCB makes it possible for them to focus their energy on servicing the young musicians who rely upon their support as they further their musical talents. According to Susan Carlson, “I don’t know what I would do without ABC. We just simply could not do this without them. We have monies coming in and out all of the time and because of the attention they give our accounts, we are able to earmark money for teachers and fulfill our commitments to the students we serve.”