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Music is Magic!

Cultivating Talent in People from Every Background, Age and Ability

As the largest community school in the nation with over 15,000 students, MacPhail Center for Music is constantly striving to expand and engage its students and the communities it serves. Throughout its 115-year existence, one of the keys to its success has been evolving with the times.

Diversity and inclusivity are critical to its mission. “Every culture has music and MacPhail will continue to aspire to be welcoming and inclusive to students and musical cultures from around the world,” says its president/coo and long-time music teacher, Paul Babcock. “Barriers to learning music can be geographic, they can be financial, and they can also be the type of music being taught. We want to break down those barriers so that everyone feels welcome and able to participate at MacPhail.”

Music, he says, is really powerful. “I think a lot of people have the impression that MacPhail is a place of giving lessons, but what we do is so much more than that. It impacts us as individuals as we listen to, perform and learn music, and it helps us to find ways to express ourselves. It becomes a way to know ourselves better as well as the world around us. When we are playing music with others, we connect and build communities.”

Approximately half of its students attend classes at one of its five sites in and around Minneapolis, while the other half does so through MacPhail’s Community Partnership programs. “Our teachers work with our partnering organizations in order to provide regular instruction at their locations, so we now have well over a hundred different locations where students are engaging with MacPhail,” says Paul.

Students range in age from infants to over 100 years old. “As young children start to experience music, it shapes neurons in the brain to develop and be receptive to musical items, but it also transfers into the ability to be able to read and speak,” he says.” For older people, it keeps their brains active and engaged.

Paul explains, “When you're performing music, when you're learning and playing music, it requires more activity in your brain level than any other documented activity. It uses both sides of our brains, including the logical as well as emotional side.

“We enjoy listening to music, because of all those underlying pieces. It makes us feel good, it helps us when we're sad, it helps us when we're happy, and then underneath that, it's actually really helping us to learn and to develop.”  

The potential for musical talent, he says, is in everybody. “With an organization such as MacPhail, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help everyone - no matter their background, no matter their age or their abilities - to be able to uncover that innate musical ability that we're all born with.”

He adds, “When we have a teacher working with a student and they're connecting, there's a dynamism between the two of them. We're always looking for teachers who are enthusiastic and excellent as performers and musicians, but most importantly, who can really connect and motivate students. When you combine that desire to play and enjoy music as a teacher with the desire to play and learn music with the student, you've got some real magic happening.”

Since MacPhail Center for Music is a nonprofit, funding is critical for it to continue its mission. “To be able to provide the accessibility and the breadth and quality of programming, it requires a partnership with our community in terms of donations,” says Paul.

During his 35 years of teaching percussion, Paul has instilled the love of music in a wealth of students. About 26 years ago, he developed a percussion ensemble called Rimshots! - a group of highly motivated high-school aged percussionists who perform all over the United States and who have even traveled to France together to give concerts. “We have a great deal of fun putting together enjoyable music and performing it,” he says.

The school puts on many other wonderful shows during the year. A list of them can be found on its website.

To find out more, support MacPhail, and to buy tickets to events, go to or call (612) 321-0100.