By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
At the beginning of the year, Hyde Park Suzuki Institute (HPSI) founder and director Lucinda Ali-Landing received unexpected news. She was told by leaders of the Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park that she would have to move her school out of the church by August 16. Since then, she has been scrambling to find a new location.
“On January 18, I found out the church would not renew the lease past August 16,” Ali-Landing said. “I asked for an extension, but they were very firm on the date.”
She said that two hours after the Jan. 18 meeting, she found out in a press release that the church had a new tenant, the Chicago Free School, and that the school would start its inaugural year at Augustana, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave., this fall.
Stephanie Jaeger, pastor of Augustana, said in a past interview that the Chicago Free School is a better fit for the church because it will use the church building during the day, reducing the cost of the space and utilities for the church. (See the Jan 22 issue of the Herald.)
HPSI is an after-school program that uses the Augustana space on a part-time basis.
Ali-Landing said that after hearing the news she and the HPSI board began to search for a new space right away.
“Being here has been wonderful but we want a place where we can design our own space and create our own hours,” Ali-Landing said.
She said the ideal space would be in Hyde Park and have 3,000 square feet so the institute could tailor the space to its needs, which include soundproof rooms, space to store equipment and the ability to keep the piano room at a certain temperature.
The Suzuki method involves teaching children to play musical instruments at a young age. A key part of the child’s success requires that the parents commit to being a part of the learning process. Ali-Landing said when she began searching for a community in which to open her school, Hyde Park was the ideal place.
“I named the school Hyde Park Suzuki Institute on purpose,” said Ali-Landing. “I expected to work with parents that were committed to kids’ education outside of school. They are already Suzuki parents — they just didn’t call it that.”
When Ali-Landing opened HPSI in 1998 at 1448 E. 53rd St., she started with 16 students. In about five years, the school grew to 60 students. About 10 years later HPSI moved to Augustana. It currently has roughly 150 students and 14 teachers. The students perform at the institute’s annual concerts as well as community events such as 4th on 53rd and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. HPSI alums have gone on to study at colleges such as The Julliard School in New York and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Kenyetta Giles Haynes, whose daughter is a cellist at HPSI, said the school created a strategic plan in 2013, which includes a balanced growth plan and increased visibility which would eventually require that the school move to a new location.
“The timeline has just been moved up a bit,” she said.
Giles Haynes, who has lived in Hyde Park for nine years, said she heard about HPSI from another parent who invited her to an outdoor concert.
“I loved the parent community,” Giles Haynes said. “And I loved seeing children as young as three playing the violin.”
She said once her daughter was enrolled in the program she rented a cello herself to help her child learn.
“I think it would be a tremendous loss if [HPSI] did not remain in Hyde Park,” Giles Haynes said. “HPSI creates a village experience.”
Ali-Landing, whose three daughters also attend the school said “we kind of raise our children together, take care of each other’s children and support them.”
She said Hyde Park also offers a diverse community, which is hard to find in other parts of the city.
As a young music student, Ali-Landing’s parents drove her to Winnetka, Ill., for music lessons. She said she was often the only student of color. She wants her school to stay in Hyde Park because it is very culturally diverse.
“We have a wonderful mix: 47 percent African-American, white, Latino and a growing Asian population,” said Ali-Landing. “If I were to move to a different part of the city that would change because that’s how the city is.”
Giles Haynes said that she likes that her daughter has a place where she can see people at the top that look like her.
Shelley Davis, chairwoman of the board at HPSI, said she’s excited about the school’s next chapter.
“We’ve been outgrowing this space for a while,” said Davis who has a 5-year-old guitarist and 9-year-old violinist in the program. “The board is committed to leading the transition to a space that will better serve the population.”
Davis said the board agreed to an “all hands on deck” approach to help find a new place for HPSI in the neighborhood.
She said part of the goal is to stay in Hyde Park to avoid long commutes.
“The majority of our parents live in Hyde Park and time is valuable and scarce during the school week,” Davis said.
The school is currently trying to raise money for the anticipated increase in operating and building costs that will come with the move. The school is also in need of new pianos.
Upcoming events at HPSI include Voila! Violins! at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 3 and Pianopalooza at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 8.
Visit hydeparksuzuki.org for more information.