Community Music School staff turnover leaves students, faculty, parents guessing


Recent personnel changes in Baldwin Wallace University’s largest outreach program, the Community Music School (CMS), will be an adjustment for the nearly 3,000 students the program serves annually.

Now in its 43rd year, the CMS provides music lessons, ensemble coaching, and teaching opportunities for students ranging from infants to seniors for Berea, Cleveland, Strongsville, and many other cities in Northeast Ohio.

Programs, including youth wind ensembles and orchestras, run year-round and allow BW’s Conservatory of Music students an in-the-field approach to learning.

“It’s all about life-long learning,” said Susan Van Vorst, dean of the Conservatory of Music, “and enriching lives across the generational spectrum…through music.”

With programs ranging from Dalcroze Eurythmics for children ages four to seven, to the Men’s and Women’s Choruses accepting high school students and above, Van Vorst certainly isn’t selling the CMS short.

“The Conservatory, obviously, serves undergraduate students,” said Adam Sheldon, director for the CMS. “Our aim is to open the doors a little bit wider and to allow the community to come and be a part of the rich musical history and the rich musical exploration that BW, itself, provide.”

Sheldon is in his third year as the CMS director and previously interned in the very same office during his time as
an undergraduate student at BW, majoring in music education. With BW’s 100% job placement for music education majors, Sheldon attributes the program’s success to the internship opportunities and hands-on learning tactics that the CMS provides conservatory students.

“It’s evident in the field that our music education students have a really good chance of getting jobs,” said Sheldon, “because they’ve had this contextualized experience.”

Research done within the CMS has also made obvious the program’s importance in recruitment for the Conservatory of Music. The program reports that 33% of incoming freshman in the Conservatory of Music have had “some engagement” with the CMS prior to attending BW.

However, upon returning from winter break, many BW students and faculty were surprised to find at least six educators had suddenly resigned or left the CMS, including a well-known figure in the program: Laura Joss, assistant professor of music education.

Bryan Bowser, current director and assistant professor for the arts management and entrepreneurship program, served as the director for the CMS prior to Sheldon for 15 years as a part of his former position as associate director for the Conservatory of Music. According to Bowser, during his time as the program’s director he served most closely with Joss, who conducted and taught multiple ensembles within the CMS.

“She’s been [in the program] the longest,” said Bowser. “She was actually one of my teachers when I was a student at Baldwin Wallace and so we’ve had a very long and strong friendship and partnership.”

With over a decade of involvement in the CMS, many are confused as to why Joss is gone, and whether her departure from the program was voluntary.

Both students and faculty alike appear to be in the dark regarding this matter.

“It seems as though there has been a split specifically with Professor Joss,” said Bowser, “but that’s not anything that I have much knowledge [of], other than rumors.” Joss still retains her professorship at the Conservatory of Music, but could not be reached for comment. Despite this, parents and students of the CMS are speaking up about what parent Jessica Petrone believes is a mistreatment of faculty.

Petrone is a business owner in Berea whose daughter has played string bass and baritone saxophone for the CMS for almost three years. After hearing of Joss’s separation with the program, Petrone and her daughter decided to go elsewhere for musical instruction. And, as stated by Petrone, it appears they are not alone.

“I know for a fact that over half the kids that were in the Jazz Band last semester and the semester before,” said Petrone, “are not returning.”

Petrone’s daughter noticed this when she joined another Jazz Band in the region that many of the former CMS students had also transferred to.

When asked about her daughter’s relationship with Joss, Petrone spoke highly of the music educator.

“My daughter absolutely adores Prof. Joss. She looks up to her as a musician, as an educator, as a woman; she’s a role model for her…probably one of the most important relationships she’s had.”

After the split between Joss and the program, CMS instructors Louis Rispoli, Chris Zanella, and Dianna Richardson all resigned. Their departures from the CMS have been confirmed by both Sheldon and Van Vorst. Additionally, resignations from assistant conductors Andrea Ryan and Nate Rudolph were also confirmed by Sheldon.

Whether these resignations were in relation to Joss’s prior departure remains unclear. None of the instructors nor assistant conductors were comfortable or able to be reached for comment regarding their leaving the CMS. It is Petrone’s belief that these resignations were not coincidences.

“All the wonderful people that were there because of [Joss] are leaving,” she said. “It’s basically like walking into a brand-new program. I know they still have some good professors there…[BW is] obviously an excellent music school, [but] if these are the kinds of decisions they’re making, how good is it going to be in four years when my daughter’s ready to go to college?”