NEC and City of Boston Partner to Enhance Music Education for Boston Children

NEC President Andrea Kalyn and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announce an ambitious new partnership funded at $14.5 million to increase access to high-quality music education for Boston’s children.

Mayor Wu and Andrea Kalyn with kids

December 19, 2022 — At Ellis Early Learning in the South End, NEC President Andrea Kalyn and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu — with the help of six preschool students, a full instrument petting zoo, and representatives from nearly all major news outlets — announced and celebrated a unique partnership between New England Conservatory and the Mayor's Office of the City of Boston, for which NEC secured a $14.5 million grant to substantially increase access to high-quality music education for Boston’s children.

Ellis Early Learning Children

“Music is transformational. It connects the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — and so it can unlock the whole child,” said President Kalyn. “We know that music can support intellectual development; but equally, it can help a child’s social and emotional development, their sense of identity, their connection. It can help them belong to something, and become their own person.”

This partnership launches a pilot to expand early childhood music education at the pre-K level, and will increase NEC’s Preparatory School (Prep) scholarships by 150%, with a focus on welcoming students from underrepresented communities.

“The $14.5 million dollar grant that NEC has secured will help us expand music programs for school communities across the city, in order to provide robust music education and instruments at no cost to our students and their families, said Mayor Wu. “We couldn’t be more thrilled that New England Conservatory will help us chart new ground…touching the lives of Boston’s young people and families.”

The midday press conference and celebration took place at Ellis Early Learning, which, along with ABCD Head Start, is one of two universal pre-K locations in Boston where the early childhood pilot will launch in Fall 2023. “As a nonprofit early childhood provider, we often have hopes and dreams for our children that are beyond our reach,” said Ellis CEO Lauren Cook. “At the top of [our] wishlist has always been: consistent music programming for our children…we are absolutely thrilled about today’s announcement.”

The event also featured remarks by Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Mary Skipper and ABCD Head Start President and CEO Sharon Scott-Chandler.

Mayor Wu Prep Announcement


Pictured above, left to right: Sharon Scott-Chandler, President & CEO, ABCD; Mary Skipper, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools; Boston Mayor Michelle Wu; Lauren Cook, CEO, Ellis Early Learning; Andrea Kalyn, President, New England Conservatory.


“Music can lead you to places you never imagined,” said President Kalyn. “A young pianist who became the first woman president of NEC, or a young pianist who became the first woman elected Mayor of Boston.”

Wu and Kalyn are historymakers as female leaders — Wu as the first woman to be elected Mayor in Boston, and Kalyn as the first female president of New England Conservatory in its 150+ year history. But they share something else as well: an early love of piano.

“Even seeing the tiny-sized violin and instruments set out in the instrument petting zoo here, reminds me of what mattered to me growing up,” shared Mayor Wu. “Many people have heard that I have a piano in my office at City Hall…Growing up in an immigrant family, music was my family’s connection to transcend the language barriers we faced — the cultural barriers, the way communication could be a burden — music was a way to unlock all of that.”

Kalyn is a pianist and musicologist who, despite all her adult accomplishments, still remembers an early musical achievement: filing past a school piano to find middle C for the first time. “It was just one note, but in that moment the whole world opened up for me,” said Kalyn. “That experience opened the door for music lessons, and that shaped my entire life.”


BEAM was launched in 2018 and housed at NEC, in collaboration with four partner organizations. “BEAM students when they come to us — they want to go to music school, to play professionally. They already love music, and we work to help them excel,” explains Sarah Caggiano, Executive Director for Expanded Education. “But what about younger children who haven’t had that opportunity yet? Our work through BEAM has made it clear that students and families want and need high-level music opportunities at earlier ages. This is what will truly impact the representation of musicians of the future — and audiences, too.” The two new programs announced today fill in those earlier chapters in a child’s musical journey.

By funding an endowment specifically for NEC Prep scholarships, the new program represents a substantial step toward NEC Prep’s ambitious goal to increase socio-economic diversity. “Research shows that children who attend racially and socio-economically diverse schools build more empathy,” said Lauren Cook, CEO at Ellis, where a large portion of families are low income and receive childcare subsidies, while a smaller portion have the means to pay tuition.

Mayor Michelle Wu and NEC Prep Faculty Laura Williamson


Pictured above: Mayor Michelle Wu and NEC Prep Faculty member Laura Williamson engage with students at the press conference.

Early childhood pilot participants will experience new classes meant to instill a love of music. Focused on social interactions, gross and fine motor skills, and musical vocabulary, students will develop their ears, sense of rhythm, and work together to collaborate.

The program builds on NEC’s 20 years of experience training teaching artists and working with young children through the renowned Community Performances and Partnerships Program, led by Tanya Maggi, Dean of Community Engagement and Professional Studies. “Using your voice, literally and figuratively, in a way that has agency — that for me is the very best of music education,” says Maggi.

Andrea Kalyn and Prep Child

“Music and the performing arts bring us together. It connects us across cultural, political, and social boundaries and barriers. It helps us find joy, strength, and hope, even on our darkest days,” said Mayor Wu. “Boston students will have new doors opened to the possibilities that music will create for them,” said President Kalyn. “We are thrilled to begin this partnership.”

Photos by Sam Williams, Nine Acre Photography

Video by Chris Cardoza, Doza Visuals

Words by Veronica Barron