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MA Top 30 Professional of the Year: Damien Crutcher
By Brian Wise
December 4, 2018
In establishing the after-school arts education program Crescendo Detroit, Damien Crutcher has brought classical music to Detroit’s far Northwest side, a neighborhood several miles removed from the emerging hub of trendy restaurants, hotels, and stores in the city’s midtown and downtown corridors.
The El Sistema-inspired program launched in 2013 with 11 students; now it has 40 and has added a summer session; others in the region are taking notice. Early in 2018, the nonprofit launched a partnership with the University of Michigan, in which its students are bussed to the Ann Arbor campus for private lessons with the university’s music and dance students and the chance to hear concerts at the school’s Hill Auditorium.
After earning a master’s degree in conducting from the University of Michigan, Crutcher spent 15 years leading the high school band and orchestra program in suburban Southfield, MI. Looking for a change of pace, he reasoned that his own Dexter-Davison neighborhood would be fertile ground for an El Sistema-based program, since the local schools lacked any formal arts education classes. “I wanted to start a program where some of the kids in Detroit could get a chance to take music, dance, and choir,” the native Detroiter says simply. He set up shop in the local Community Church of Christ, with participants ranging in age from five to 18.
Every Crescendo Detroit student is trained on a band or string instrument and participates in dance classes and “life skills” programming. Classes are held two afternoons a week and on Saturdays. Homework assistance and dinner are also provided, Crutcher says, “to focus in on the whole child.” “You have to build a culture of high expectations,” he says.
“You have to instill a sense of responsibility even if kids are not graded on it. We had to really work on getting parent buy-in especially.” Tuition of $100 a semester can either be paid directly or “worked off” through volunteer fundraising. Crescendo Detroit also hosts a monthly “parents huddle” that includes talks by parenting experts.
Fundraising is a growing part of Crutcher’s role; to date the organization has cultivated some 450 donors, who give anywhere from $5 to $5000. His evenings and weekends are spent on the podium: He leads the suburban Farmington Community Band, and two ensembles administered by the Detroit Symphony: the Civic Concert Band and the Detroit Community Concert Band.
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