1 of 2
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Drum teacher Daniel Adams, left, teaches his final lesson to Tyler John.

AMERICAN FORK — The sounds seeping through the walls of The Music School in American Fork Wednesday were sadder than Mozart's "Requiem" and more poignant than Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet."

Furniture squealed discordantly as it was dragged across the floor. Packing tape zipped as it was torn from the roll and slapped onto boxes marked for repossession. Moving trucks rumbled in to take away a decade of dreams.

"I've poured my life into this school," said Caleb Chapman, The Music School's executive director and founder. "Now it's closing. I feel like I've lost my 10-year-old child."

The Music School shut down Monday after the investment group backing the business unexpectedly yanked funding.

"Without them, we're penniless," Chapman said. "I had no other choice but to close the doors."

Chapman founded The Music School with his wife in 1998. Since then, the institution has garnered international recognition for its polished ensembles and secured a partnership with the Juilliard School of Music — a feat no other community music school in the United States has managed.

It was "quite a shock" when Sentry Financial, the school's chief investor, called Chapman Saturday to tell him they were pulling the plug on the project, Chapman said.

The developer of Sandy's Broadway-theater project, the Proscenium, had planned to house The Music School in the complex. Orem-based BTS Investments had planned extra theater space, practice rooms and classroom space for the school as well as offices, condos and a spa in the first phase of the project.

BTS investor Scott McQuarrie said Wednesday that he'd had a little bit of early warning about the closure and was sad to see the school close. However, he hopes it will be able to reopen as a nonprofit under a new name, he said. McQuarrie doesn't expect the closure to affect the Proscenium, which is also in discussions with other music schools. BTS Investments will know more in the future, he said.

Sandy Economic Development Director Randy Sant said he didn't know how The Music School closure would affect the Proscenium.

"Like any small business, we were spending more money than we were making during the growing period," Chapman said. "That was always part of the plan."

That plan, however, was devised four years ago, when Sentry Financial first decided to back The Music School. Now, with the economy sagging, Sentry Financial CEO Jonathan Ruga said, the investors can't afford to stay on board.

"We have provided millions of dollars to help The Music School grow and succeed," said Ruga. "But the school was literally losing money every day, every month and every year. There's not going to be a time it isn't generating dramatic losses."

Sentry Financial's decision couldn't have come at a worse time.

The same day the investment group told Chapman the project was a no go, The Music School was conducting an open house, recruiting students.

"We were getting out the hot dogs and the balloons and signing people up for classes," said Andy Shelton, campus director. "We had no idea we'd all be out of jobs two days later."

Shelton and his colleagues — some 70 administrators and music teachers — were out of more than a job, though. The Music School relied on Sentry Financial to supply money for paychecks.

Funding was axed on payday, so teachers won't be compensated for the past month of work.

"It would have been great to get a couple week's notice to find a new job," Shelton said. "But not getting paid for work we've already done? That's like a kick in the gut when you're down."

Fortunately, many of The Music School's teachers will still continue teaching private lessons. With the help of a volunteer committee of parents, Chapman hopes to keep the school's ensembles intact.

"My student's parents are anxiously waiting for me to find a place to teach," said percussion teacher Kandis Taylor. "It's not going to be easy, though, because I teach drums. I can't just do that at my apartment complex."

Taylor will miss more than just The Music School's "beautiful facility," though. As the band teacher at Timberline Middle School, she said most of her students have been trained at The Music School.

"I know the school's closure is going to impact my program," she said. "There's a good chance a lot of these students won't be getting the same quality of instruction."

The Music School was more than just a place to take lessons. The school provided students with the opportunity to record their music, attend workshops with celebrity musicians and tour the world.

"The fondest memories I have in life up to this point are with The Music School," said 17-year-old Ross Palomaki, who played saxophone for the institution's top jazz ensemble. "I always felt like I was challenged there."

Parent Randy Mott said The Music School helped put his son on track to a career as a professional musician.

"He's only 17 years old, and he's already got a resume to die for," he said. "He was a part of the best jazz band in the country. He's been on stage with professional musicians. He's played for crowds of thousands."


Contributing: Rebecca Palmer


E-mail: estuart@desnews.com