Music Conservatory of Westchester photo

Christine Ebersole, Fred Armisen, Phylicia Rashad and Bernie Williams

“The show must go on” may sound trite, but it has never been more true than it is now, as performing artists face unprecedented challenges practicing their craft in the age of COVID and shape-shifting to adapt to new media.

The Music Conservatory of Westchester (MCW), a nonprofit music school based in White Plains, is meeting those challenges head-on in its 19th annual fundraiser and its first gala to be held virtually, Wednesday, Sept. 23. 

Headliners include Tony Award-winning actress and singer Christine Ebersole, Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad and Saturday Night Live alum Fred Armisen.

“We’re truly excited that so many celebrated musicians, actors and performers have come forward to support our event,” said Aishling Quinn, MCW’s development officer.

Emceed by WQXR radio host Elliott Forrest, the fundraiser will also feature performances and special appearances by award-winning performers from “Hello Dolly!,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Beetlejuice,” “School of Rock,” “Tootsie” and “Wicked,” as well as singer/pianist Billy Stritch and Grammy nominee and Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Bernie Williams.

Proceeds of the fundraiser will benefit MCW’s Music Therapy Program for children and adults with disabilities, the Healing Our Heroes Program for U.S. military veterans and the institution’s Scholarship Program for students.

“The Conservatory’s mission is to provide the extraordinary benefits of music to all in our community,” MCW Executive Director Jean Newton said. “We fulfill our mission through these three programs.”

In past years, the guest appearance portion of the fundraiser capped off the MCW’s June Golf and Tennis Classic at Brae Burn Country Club in Purchase. This year, everything was postponed until September and the games will take place separately on Sept. 21, two days before the celebrity event.

“Although we had to make some changes in 2020 due to COVID-19, we are thrilled to move forward,” Quinn said. “With the addition of a technology platform and a lot of creativity, we hope to capture the essence of our traditional annual fundraiser.”

Quinn pointed out there is an advantage to this reimagined gala benefit platform, whereby capacity is no longer limited to 300 people in a reception room. “This year, everyone can get a ‘front row seat’ to Broadway performances and special appearances from our honorees that you could not witness anywhere else.”

Social distancing protocols have also created long-term benefits that are changing the dynamics of music instruction.

“We transitioned to online learning to keep our faculty and students safe,” Newton said. “But with virtual lessons we can reach students who live farther away, are homebound, or don’t have consistent access to transportation. We plan to make online learning a permanent offering.”

The school is building five new teaching spaces including a digital piano lab and a recording studio. “We will have the capability for a range of technology-based programs and distance learning,” Newton said.

“Wicked” actor Gizel Jiménez, one of the guest stars of the event, shared her thoughts about the significance of music in the community.

“I believe giving back is part of the artist’s journey, to encourage and inspire the youth of today. Without them, we discontinue the legacy of live performance and musical healing as a whole.”

To watch the virtual fundraiser and donate to the Music Conservatory of Westchester, visit https://bit.ly/2ZDHhjC.

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