The mission set forth by Virginia Hoff and Joyce Barthelson, founders of Hoff-Barthelson Music School, in 1944 was to spread the joy of music and make available education access to reach as wide an audience as possible. In looking back during its 75th anniversary year, Hoff-Barthelson decided to go back to its roots for the 2020-21 school year.

With a new flexible pricing structure and expanded financial aid program for K-12 and adult students, HBMS hopes “to serve a broader share of the community and expand access to high quality, comprehensive music education in Westchester County.”

Rye’s Aidan P. took advantage of an HBMS scholarship beginning as a fifth grader all the way through senior year playing the classical double bass. He just finished his sophomore year of college as a Dean’s Performance Scholar at Eastman School of Music.

“I would say Hoff-Barthelson taught me humility, the value of service/giving back to others through music, and the importance of having a supportive music school community,” Aidan said, adding, “Hoff-Barthelson nurtures rigor, not competition. It’s not tied to a conservatory. People can take different paths. You take out what you put in. If you put a lot in, you can get a lot out of it. If you play recreationally, it will still help shape you as a person.”

Mom Nancy P. appreciated the “investment” the school made in her son’s future. Aidan’s elementary school music teacher, a former faculty member at the school, suggested the family look into HBMS after Aidan had a promising first year with the bass as a fourth grader.

“For our family, Hoff would have just been outside of our ability to do,” Nancy said. “They made a major commitment to him from fifth grade to 12th grade, eight full years of commitment for our child. He was absolutely interested in music and playing as a kid, but I do think his experience at Hoff is what kind of fully developed that interest.”

Aidan took advantage of every possible lesson, program and group experience at HBMS over the years, dedicating himself to no fewer than four days a week there, which also led to other prestigious performance opportunities throughout the years. It’s also led him to want to pursue a life in the arts.

“I’d love to get a full-time gig in an orchestra, possibly some place in Western Europe,” Aidan said. “I can see doing that for a period of time, maybe even saving up some money. Then I could see teaming up with a group of teachers, musicians and performers, touring around the world and bringing music to people and kids in other countries. I’d like to use music as a vehicle for outreach and diplomacy, which fits with my interest in politics/civics. It seems like that’s desperately needed these days.”

Financial aid, now available to middle class families, is based on need, commitment and the contribution a student has made or can make to the HBMS community. Applications will be taken at on a rolling basis until all scholarship money has been awarded.

“In our strategic planning we looked at our long history and where we should be going and what we should be doing that is relevant to the community,” HBMS Executive Director Ken Cole said. “The process really reaffirmed our commitment to our founders’ values that the joy of music should be available to everyone… There is now more aid available to more people. That was driven by us recommitting to access, to make sure everybody who wants to come to Hoff is able to do so to the extent that it’s possible.”


The HBMS Festival Orchestra

While all of the changes at HBMS were happening prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, HBMS has transitioned to an online school for lessons and small group activities.

“It takes some adaptation,” Cole said. “A lot of teaching music involves touch and being physical. You can’t touch a student’s hand and help them move the wrist this way or that way — you have to describe it rather than physically move it. And you can’t have an orchestra or chorus rehearsal online, so we’ve had to come up with alternative activities for those kids…

“It’s different, it’s taken a lot of ingenuity on the part of the teachers and also the students and the parents while they’re working from home. It’s been a major undertaking.”

While the situation is not ideal, the virtual classes have helped keep students and instructors engaged in learning and making music. It even opens the doors to more online experiences going forward even when students are allowed to return to the physical location at 25 School Lane.

“You can take lessons online while you’re away, no matter where you are this summer,” Cole said. “We have a beautiful campus in Scarsdale and we’d sure like to be back there but, until it is possible, we’re doing online by being really creative about that.”


HBMS at 25 School Lane in Scarsdale.

Margaret Kantor, a Scarsdale High School senior, is one of seven siblings — four older, two younger — to attend HBMS. She started off in kindergarten playing piano and graduates playing flute and taking voice lessons.

“Music has always been a center of my life besides my schoolwork,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from it. One of the most important things I’ve taken from my music and applied to my daily life is the listening aspect. When I’m in all my performance groups you have to be constantly listening to everyone. All my teachers instilled that you have to work together to create the most beautiful music. I take that into my group projects or anything else I’m working on.”

Kantor is still deciding where she will go to school in the fall and although she won’t be majoring in music she plans to continue in the arts. For the schools she is considering she’s already explored the musical opportunities that will be available to her.

“I’ve always enjoyed playing music,” Kantor said. “It makes me happy. Through these big performance groups you meet a bunch of new people who also enjoy what you enjoy doing. It’s a nice thing to have when you go anywhere.”

HBMS has about 800 students using the Scarsdale campus and another 200 in satellite programs, with students coming from all over Westchester County and beyond. And there is plenty of room to grow the program even more to continue the work Hoff and Barthelson started 75 years ago.

“The pandemic reinforces the need to do these things we were planning to do anyway,” Cole said.

Hoff-Barthelson Music School offerings

Hoff-Barthelson offers comprehensive music education for students at all stages of development from ages 4 through adult by combining the following elements:

Private Lesson Program: Weekly private instruction on more than 20 instruments and voice with regular access to professional accompaniment.

Musicianship Program: Weekly classes that deepen and accelerate the learner’s practice, performance and understanding of music.

Performance Program: Frequent performance workshop and recital opportunities, as well as opportunities to participate in master classes, an honors program and community concerts all with professional accompaniment.

Ensembles Program: Orchestras, choruses, chamber groups, jazz ensembles and other instrumental ensembles for a range of ages and levels.

Progress Program: Written performance critiques, progress reports and access to advising from HBMS deans.

Starting with the 2020-21 school year, students may participate in the Comprehensive Program at one of the following tiers, with prices tailored accordingly:

Core: Private lessons plus one class or ensemble.

Full: Private lessons plus two classes or ensembles.

Extended: Private lessons and unlimited classes and ensembles.

Suzuki: Private lessons, group class, parent classes and one additional class or ensemble for beginners ages 4-7 on violin, viola, cello, flute and piano.

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