I have been teaching guitar for the Cascade School of Music since moving to Bend in 2008. Dillon is the executive director of the school and an incredibly inspirational and motivated musician and educator. He has built an incredible amount of momentum for the school in a short time, and just this fall (2010) we moved to the old Parks & Rec building off Portland which is right on the Deschutes River. There are private studios, large classrooms and community concert spaces – a dream come true for a music school!
This is an article I wrote about Dillon for Bend Living Magazine last year.
“Personality traits can be so transparent when you’re playing music. For instance, my music is like this desk,” said Dillon Schneider, executive director and founder of the Cascade Community School of Music (CCSM), as he moved a pile of sheet music and folders that were covering a ringing telephone in his office. “It is messy, full of great things and occasionally inspired,” he said, taking a long slug of coffee, his second cup of the day. “I’m always pushing the beat, driving my bass player crazy.”
Schneider plays jazz guitar in the Groove Merchants, a jazz standard trio that includes bass player John Allen, and vibraphonist David Fahrner. A drummer, a female singer and a saxophone player occasionally join in for larger concerts.
Schneider founded CCSM in 2002 with a vision to create the momentum he had once felt as a jazz studies student at Western Washington University in Bellingham, where he and other students practiced until the janitors kicked them out of the music hall. “It was really motivating, because we were all working toward the same goals,” he recalled.
CCSM is a nonprofit music school located on the campus of Cascades Academy. The school provides small group lessons and ensembles ranging from first-year guitar courses to bluegrass jam sessions for children and adults.
“There is a palpable difference at the school compared to my private lessons in my home studio. It’s not people coming to class, it feels like a community gathering,” said Dale Largent, a teacher of percussion and music theory at CCSM. “Most other people on the planet learn to play music in a social context—in the bush in Africa or in a pub in Ireland. Playing with others is the joy of music.”
After college, Schneider worked as a chief instructor for Pacific Crest Outward Bound, a career that brought him to Bend and cemented his belief in the power of experiential education.
Programs like Musicians in Motion, where CCSM students have face-to-face interactions with world class musicians, take them out of the class room and into the world of a professional performer. CCSM students also make field trips to see the Central Oregon Symphony, and at the end of the year they perform a recital on the stage of the Tower Theatre.
Schneider’s infectious enthusiasm has brought CCSM from a solo operation with an unpaid executive director, to a nonprofit with a $200,000 a year budget and $8,000 in annual tuition assistance to its students.
“I had a hunch about Dillon when I first met him,” said David Bourke, who became the CCSM Board of Directors president in 2004, after stepping down as the chair of the COCC Foundation. “He has an incredibly well developed ego for an artist—a receptivity to change that has allowed him to become a solid businessman, a fundraiser and a great motivator for his students and faculty alike.”
As Bourke helped to transform CCSM into a viable business, CCSM was awarded two of the three capacity-building grants it applied for that year, and Schneider finally began to earn a paycheck. By the end of the first grant period, CCSM was raising $80,000 a year on its own.
Financial stability has allowed Schneider to get more sleep and spend more time with his wife, Nancy, and their daughter, Luci. It has also allowed CCSM to develop signature programs such as Artists Committed to Excellence (ACE) which has become a cornerstone of the school. Students of grades two through six learn guitar, violin, drums, piano or flute in weekly lessons. Schneider asks families to make a yearlong commitment to the program and emphasizes the need for parents to be present while their children are practicing.
“Our society is so ADD collectively—we are always looking for instant gratification,” said Schneider. “But if you can teach your kids how to practice, to structure their day around it and persevere through the challenges of learning a new instrument, then they can do anything.”