Community Music School in Buffalo celebrates 90th anniversary

Apr 23, 2014

The Community Music School has been providing music lessons to individuals in Buffalo for 90 years. The school will be celebrating its anniversary with a big event Thursday night in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans. 

Community Music School has trained many performers who have gone on to national music careers. As part of our Focus on Education reporting, WBFO's Eileen Buckley learned one of the school's oldest graduates has trained many famous performers.

Community Music School, Buffalo, NY.
Credit Photo from Community Music School Webpage

Andy Anselmo is known as "teacher to the stars." Anselmo, like Community Music School, also turned 90 this past January. He was born in 1924, the same year the school opened.

As a young teen, Anselmo was already singing and performing at nightclubs. Then a school teacher advised him to take voice lessons and suggested he attend the Community Music School on Elwmood Avenue. He started at the school at the age of 16. By 17, Anselmo was singing live on local radio on the former WEBR in Buffalo.

"Regularly, every morning, I did Armed Forces mail calls, which was near the end of the war with a 12-piece great orchestra," said Anselmo.

While performing on the radio, Anselmo was also attending Canisius College with a goal of going to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory of Music.

"Because this great voice teacher who was there that taught my teacher at the Community Music School and she was always talking to me about her teacher, and so I just had to go there," said Anselmo.

Anselmo found his way to the music school. He received scholarships, worked in nightclubs and earned his degrees. Later he headed to New York City where he opened a studio and began training others in music.But Anselmo attributes his early years of singing on local radio to launching his successful music career. He has served as a voice coach to some of the most amazing stars in the music industry, including legends like Liza Minnelli.

Andy Anselmo with Liza Minnelli
Credit Photo from Anselmo's Webpage

WBFO News asked Anselmo what it was like working with Minnelli.

"Well, she is a lovely girl. She is very sweet and she's just great," said Anselmo.  

Anselmo also trained Tony Bennett, once helping him to restore his singing voice after surgery.

Anselmo will be helping Community Music School celebrate its 90th year in Buffalo Thursday evening as one of its beloved students.

"It turns out, music in Buffalo in 1924 was a very good year. It was not only our first year, but also the year that Andy Anselmo was born," said Jeff Paterson, executive director of the Community Music School.

After nine decades in Buffalo, the school's legacy is rich, not only from training those who are now national performers, but providing education to many local citizens.

Jeff Paterson, executive director at Community Music School in Buffalo.
Credit Photo from Community Music School Webpage

"I always say that Community Music School spins plates at the same time; one is quality and the other is access," said Paterson. "We are there for everybody. We are just as proud of the people who are serving in their houses of worship and people who are entertaining their loved ones and doing things out in the community with their music," noted Paterson.

Music education offers a strong backdrop to improve overall  education, especially in young children.

"It's a language of its own. It uses math, it uses scientific principles and so it engages both sides of the brain," said Paterson. "Students who study music are shown to have higher test scores."

Paterson said his organization is "saddened" any time music education is cut in public schools.

"Sometimes people say to me 'That's got to be good for you. You'll have more students coming to you.' We don't see it that it that way. It's not a victory for anybody when music education is cut. It's a loss for everybody,"said Paterson.

Michael Civisca.
Credit Photo from Michael Civisca's Webpage

Michael Civisca, a well-known voice to Buffalo, also attended the Community Music School and studied with Anselmo.

"I always wanted to be a singer. I tried everything in life at that was the last thing I wanted to try" I guess I always had it, they just sort of polished it up for me," said Civisca.

Civisca will be part of the school's 90th anniversary celebration, joining other national performers. Paterson says he is thrilled to have all the music talents show cast at the event, noting music engages the whole person and the whole mind.

"It's  taking medicine without knowing you're taking medicine because it is so pleasurable to do," said Paterson. Anselmo agrees and still singing and playing the piano.

"How much the mind has to do with life and your whole being," said Anselmo.