HYATTSVILLE, Md. — Students are raising their voices--and instruments--in the hopes of saving their treasured music school in Prince George's County.
Ottley Music School has been around since 1973, but the owners have recently fallen on some hard times.
The owner, Nevilla Ottley-Adjahoe's husband, suffered a stroke not too long ago, and they've lost a few students due to financial struggles.
“We’ve had families who’ve lost jobs… we’ve had families who didn’t get their paycheck and find out you’re a contractor and you’re not getting backpay, so we either had to keep teaching them for free or let them go until they can get their money back," said Nevilla.
Students who have been attending their whole lives say the school has been integral in molding them into the young men and women they are today.
“This has changed my life in a big, big, big way," said vocal student Destini Bennett.
She says that she's been taking vocal lessons at Ottley "since [she] was very, very little where [she] couldn't read at all."
Ms. Ottley founded the school after numerous requests from parents to teach their children.
It grew out of her living room and eventually settled into a floor of a Hyattsville building filled with antique organs, pianos, sheet music and other instruments.
This small yet mighty school has seen a lot of talent walk through its doors.
Current rising star, 17-year-old Kianna Kelly-Futch has been taking lessons with Nevilla since she was five-years-old.
Since then, she has performed for a U.S. senator, in multiple competitions, and at Carnegie Hall in New York.
If Ms. Ottley can't raise enough money to keep the doors open, though, Lianna and her classmates will have lost the teachers and community that have allowed them to blossom into seasoned performers.
To try to prevent that from happening, the school is selling instruments that have sat unused for a while:
- A clarinet
- A saxophone
You can purchase them directly from the school.
Teachers who have worked with Nevilla for years say that the impact this community staple has transcends music.
“Ms. Ottley is amazing, she’s amazing. She’s energetic and always looking for new things to do…but, she’s also interested in the community. She’s interested in what music can do for students besides just teaching them music. It sharpens their wits and makes them better students, and I’ve seen it over and over again," said vocal and theory teacher, Leonard Higgs.
Steel drum student, who also happens to be Nevilla's grandson, Alex Adjahoe, says practicing his instrument has helped keep him motivated to stay in school.
“When I started playing the steel drums, it brought my grades far up, far up, so I keep doing it to keep me in school," said Alex.
New Carrollton councilmember Lincoln Lashley also sees a difference in his work ethic.
He joined the school two years ago.
“I think it’s broadened my horizons, and what I mean by that is it’s allowed me to look at things differently...Creative people tend to have discipline, because you have to practice. You have to work at your craft. And that discipline can be used to apply to many other things in your life that help you keep focused, help you stay on task, so yeah I think it’s an opportunity to just grow as a person and to tap into something that I think is deep down inside of me that I think I just wanted to let out," said Lashley.
14-year-old Destini Bennett ended up getting into a Michelle Obama program thanks to the school helping her conquer her stage fright.
“You would learn things that you might not know that you could do if you just put your mind to it and stop thinking, I can’t do this, I can’t do this. You can do it if you put your mind to it," said Destini.
Click below to learn more about the school.