Excitement is mounting at the Music/Arts Institute as the Millicent A. Daugherty Community School of the Arts moves closer to celebrating its 35th anniversary in conjunction with the centennial of the former McCoy School building – MAI’s home since 1985.

“For us, it is a milestone,” says Jon Donald, program director/percussion instructor at MAI, a brick-and-stone building at 1010 S. Pearl St., Independence.

“I don’t think the founders (of MAI) envisioned 35 years down the road when they started this school in 1979,” he says.

“Building Better Lives Through Excellence in the Arts” is the mission statement of the nonprofit school, founded by five Independence teachers. What they envisioned, Jon says, was a school “that could teach music theory classes and be collaborative with other private music lesson studios.”

Calling MAI a supplement to the music programs in public and private schools, Jon notes music teachers can’t do everything they need to do in the amount of time and with the resources they have.

“So I look at (MAI) as really supplementing the good work (school districts) are doing and being able to go more in depth and (present) more of the historical side of music they are studying,” he says, explaining MAI students have opportunities to perform in ways they can’t at school because they spend so much time with marching bands and other things.

MAI has a rich heritage and a bright future. Among its founders were Millicent Daugherty, Ted Stewart, Wayne Smith, Evelyn Allen and Jean Dexter. With no central place to meet as a school at its conception, students studied in the homes and studios of their teachers. Later they met for awhile in a little house northeast of the Square, before MAI purchased and moved into the vacant McCoy building in 1985.

Although MAI offers many outstanding programs, it is best known for the George Caleb Bingham Academy of the Arts.

Offered through the summer school program of the Independence School District, this year’s academy runs from June 2 through July 3. It is attended by to public and private school students who are gifted in the arts, grades 9-12, as well as homeschoolers.

Not all attendees will meet at the same location. Music students will convene at the Music/Arts Institute; theater and visual art students at the Metropolitan Community College-Blue River Campus on East Missouri 78.

“In celebration of the McCoy School building being 100 years old, our theme is ‘100 Years Ago,’ and we are going to focus on the music, the drama and dance around the 1914 era,” says Sariah Pinick, MAI business office manager and chair of the voice division.

“That (time period) was at the beginning of (World War I), and there was a lot going on in music and pop culture that the children will get to explore this summer.”

If Jon and Sariah had their druthers, they would observe both the centennial open house and anniversary celebration on Oct. 11. That date is firm on the open house; but not on the 35th anniversary event.

What’s the problem?

“We are still trying to nail down that (Oct. 11) date,” Sariah says, explaining one MAI alumnus – an internationally known opera singer – has agreed to sing at the celebration, which includes a plated dinner and silent auction. However, his performance schedule determines when he can attend.

Although both events are still in the planning stages, Dr. Eph Ehly, a UMKC professor emeritus, has agreed to conduct the MAI Alumni Choir at the open house.

Sharing the program with Dr. Ehly will be one of MAI’s own – Jonathan Krinke, who was commissioned to write a special choral arrangement for the Alumni Choir to sing. A student of Millicent Daugherty, Jonathan also studied with Dr. Ehly at UMKC . He’s currently teaches at Lee’s Summit North High School.

Before MAI observes its two special events, students at the school will have participated in the following programs:

• Make a Joyful Noise-a-thon – This Feb. 22 event was a fundraiser in which students gathered pledges; then performed throughout the day both in solo and group performances.

• MyArtsKC on the Square – MAI’s ethnic drum ensemble,”The Global Rhythm Project,” performs at 8 p.m. today, Friday, Feb. 28, during the open mike session. MyArtsKC is on the northeast corner of Main Street and Truman Road.

• MAI Carol Marcks Scholarship Concert - This fundraiser begins at 7 p.m. March 7 at the Fort Osage Performing Arts Center. Featured are the Young MAIsterSingers, Global Rhythm Project Ensemble, Allegro Harp Ensemble and The Young MAIsterSinger Alumni.

• Spring Concert – 6 p.m. May 4 at Woods Chapel United Methodist Church, 4725 NE Lakewood Way, Lee’s Summit.

• Spring Festivals – The first of two solo and ensemble festivals for high school students is set for March 15; the other is April 26 for all students. The public is invited to attend both events at MAI.

Though Jon Donald never attended McCoy before it became the Music/Arts Institute or attended as an MAI student, he still feels something special when he enters the storied building.

“I feel the history here, and I would love to hear other people’s stories about how they were impacted through time in the McCoy building,” he says. “That would enrich and inform me that everytime I come into the building to teach my instrument, I would feel like I am carrying on the legacy or tradition that is 100 years old.”

Jon says he would like to hear about your remembrances of the school, its teachers and its programs so he can share them with other alumni.

Email Jon at: jon@musicartsinstitute.org.

Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.