Spreading music in Flushing

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Earlier this year the closure of the half−century old Brooklyn−Queens Conservatory in Flushing became a signal of how deeply the financial crisis was affecting cultural institutions in the borough.

But a group of former employees and area musicians have since taken matters into their own hands to ensure that the artistic hole left by the institution is not a lasting one.

Five weeks ago Barbara Speedling, Clyde Bullard and a handful of musicians founded Center Stage: The Queens Center for the Performing Arts, a new institution dedicated to spreading the joy of music to Queens through instruction and performance.

“We’re like the story of the phoenix rising out of the ashes,” said Bullard, artistic director of Center Stage. “We’ve only been legally incorporated for a few weeks, but it’s been going incredibly.”

Since mid−March the school, which is operating out of St. George’s Episcopal Church at 135−32 38th Ave., has enlisted the services of 17 instructors and already has 61 students enrolled. The school is offering instruction in more than a dozen instrument and group classes in everything from how to play in a rock band to opera and classical music courses.

Speedling had worked as a jazz vocal instructor at the Brooklyn Queens Conservatory for several years until last fall, when her class was cut. Just months after her departure, the conservatory folded, leaving dozens of students with few options for instruction.

“The original intention was just to replace that class in a small studio in Long Island City where we would pay as we go,” said Speedling, Center Stage’s executive director. “But then when the Conservatory closed, we decided we really wanted to create something bigger that would have a lasting impact in the community.”

And though the financial crisis has cut many Queens’ nonprofit groups to the bone, Speedling and Bullard said their passion for spreading the arts will be what helps them dodge the knife.

“The reason we have come so far and why we’re the way we are is because this isn’t a financial situation to us — it’s an emotional one,” Speedling said.

At just more than a month old, Center Stage already has an ambitious schedule lined up, beginning with its inaugural concert Saturday at St. George’s at 7 p.m. Bullard said if people did not know the group before then, they will afterward.

“We’re going to light up Main Street like it’s never been lit up before. We’re going to have four spotlights that can be seen from miles away. A red carpet. We want to make sure we draw attention to the fact that we’re here,” Bullard said.

The event will feature performances by students, faculty and invited guests, such as renowned jazz trumpet player Eddie Allen and bassist Alex Blake.

Speedling said Center Stage hopes to double its enrollment by the end of the year and expand its program to include senior citizen choirs and even “American Idol” preparation courses. Bullard said the school also plans to host free concerts every Wednesday during the summer.

“Some people have said that we might be crazy for starting something like this right now,” Speedling said. “But maybe this is exactly the right time to do it.”

For information or tickets, call 718−321−8496.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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