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Grinnell School of Music changes location, expands access to music education

Khanh Do

Grinnell School of Music’s plan for expansion is successfully underway — news that is music to the ears of many in the Grinnell community. 

The Grinnell School of Music (GSoM), a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is a community school where children and adults can access professional music instruction. Local professional musicians currently offer lessons to 65 students in voice, piano, guitar and saxophone. 

Erin Bustin, the founder and executive director of GSoM, said she hopes to double the number of students in the coming years. To make that happen, Bustin and GSoM’s board of directors have been fundraising for the purchase and renovation of a building located at 720 5th Ave., a major improvement upon the school’s current location at 819 Broad St. The rehabilitated, fully accessible storefront will feature an 800-square-foot classroom, three acoustically-sound rooms, an original mural and outdoor seating. The renovations are set to begin before 2024, and the school should be in full operation next August.

Bustin said that roughly $600,000 of the $750,000 goal has been raised so far through gifts and pledges. 

In addition to the purchase of the building, equipment and furnishings, a portion of the funds will go towards establishing an endowed scholarship. Bustin says that she will use an anonymous pay-what-you-can model to ensure that programs are available to everyone, regardless of financial status. GSoM normally charges a monthly tuition of $150 for weekly 45-minute private lessons. However, Bustin says that the Ahrens Foundation Vosburg Music Fund, which offers up to $500 annually toward music lessons, has already been helping families with affordability.

The development of GSoM has been an extended process for Bustin. In 2014, Bustin moved to Grinnell with her husband, Associate Professor Mark Laver, music, and quickly began expanding music opportunities in the community after seeing limited programming. She founded the Grinnell Children’s Choir, a group of 35 singers in grades K-5, in 2017, and opened Studio E, the predecessor to GSoM, in 2019. In 2023, Bustin received Special Recognition for Arts Service at the Iowa Arts Council Governor’s Arts Awards.

“One of the reasons that founding this school is so important to me is that no one should have to drive an hour to be involved in music,” said Bustin. “But if you Google ‘music schools near me,’ we’re the only option until Iowa City or Des Moines. That access is critical for our youth.”

No one should have to drive an hour to be involved in music.

— Erin Bustin

Bustin, who is also a vocal instructor, says that the community should lean into music as a way to bring people together.

“We agree on almost nothing these days. But if you ask someone if they like music, the answer is always yes,” said Bustin. “I believe in the community-building power of music and the powerful mental health properties it has.”

Cornelia Di Gioia `26, who started teaching violin at GSoM this fall, said that the community school structure is ideal for music education. “I grew up about a block away from a similar music studio at home, and that’s what got me into music,” said Di Gioia. “I think when you start with group music programs as a little two-year-old and then move up to playing your own instruments, it keeps you engaged.”

There are many ways musical knowledge is gatekept, and it’s often oriented around class or race.

— Mark Laver

Laver, who teaches saxophone at GSoM and the College, says that the school is filling an important gap in rural music access. “There are many ways musical knowledge is gatekept, and it’s often oriented around class or race,” Laver said. “But one factor that frequently gets overlooked is the kinds of opportunities that people in rural areas don’t typically get.”

As GSoM continues to grow, Bustin says that her excitement about its role in the community grows equally. “In terms of quality of life for faculty and staff and families, the school is a major asset because of its power as a uniter,” said Bustin.

The Grinnell School of Music is accepting online donations, as well as checks payable to “Grinnell School of Music” mailed to 720 5th Ave. Grinnell, IA 50112. For inquiries about getting involved in programming, email Erin Bustin at

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About the Contributors
Zach Spindler-Krage
Zach Spindler-Krage, News Editor
Zach Spindler-Krage is a third-year political science major and policy studies concentrator. He is from Rochester, Minnesota and has an unbelievable amount of state pride. Zach spends his time hiking, playing and listening to music, trying to submit op-eds for every class writing assignment, and wishing he was in Minnesota.
Khanh Do
Khanh Do, Visuals Editor
Khanh Do is a first-year Computer Science intended. She calls the famous melting pot of culture and food, Hanoi city, Vietnam, home, and so, as you can guess, she is *surviving* D-hall.
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