As Maria von Trapp once said, “Music acts like a magic key.” For Renton-based nonprofit string studio Key To Change, it’s the truth.
Key To Change has been serving middle school and high school violinists and violists throughout south King County for six years, which all started when its founder and executive director, Dr. Quinton Morris, returned from China after a world tour.
“I learned about students in the world,” said Dr. Morris, who is an accomplished professional violinist and associate professor at Seattle University. “I felt like they all learned the same and I wanted to bring that back to my community. I enjoy teaching and seeing people learn.”
Morris, 46, is a Renton High School alumnus who began playing the violin in the mid-1980s. “I always loved the sound of the instrument,” he said. “Not a lot of students of color played it when I decided to become a professional musician.”
Key To Change offers after-school group and private lessons for violin and viola for young musicians who may otherwise not have the opportunity to play. “We really do have something for everyone,” Morris said. “Our student body is diverse, 91% are of color and we provide scholarships for students that can’t afford lessons.”
The studio currently has four teachers for its lessons. Jeffrey Liu has been a coach and instructor for three years; Kellen Cribs is a teaching intern who has been with Key To Change for one year; while Noah Geller, who started in fall 2022, is a studio teacher and also first chair violin for the Seattle Symphony.
“We have a partnership with the Seattle Symphony for free concerts, and students get to participate in activities and play for members of the symphony,” said Morris.
The studio also has a teacher who is the studio’s composer-in-residence, Curtis Stewart. “He has written music for all of our students,” he said. “Music based off of culture, music written for them to play.”
Lessons are Monday and Thursday between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., held for 14 weeks per trimester. Trimesters are divided up by the seasons — spring/summer, fall and winter. For the winter trimester, the studio had 40 students, along with hundreds of students through the studio’s in-school program throughout south King County.
Although registration for the spring/summer trimester has passed, prospective musicians can sign up for the fall trimester towards the end of summer 2023.
Each trimester ends with a concert that students must perform in (the end of spring/summer trimester concert will be Aug. 19) and every spring, Key To Change holds its Solo String Festival, which ends with a spring salon and fundraiser at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. This year’s festival and salon will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 5-7.
“It’s an opportunity for students to come and participate and they get to play for professional musicians and there will be prizes and scholarships,” said Morris.
Some students of Key To Change continued their careers and become professional musicians. According to Dr. Morris, there are two former students who are in the Virginia Symphony and one in the Tacoma Symphony. “There are others who are teachers and entrepreneurs now,” he said. “Students at Key to Change are motivated to practice and are engaged in learning at a high level.”
What helps Key To Change students to get to a high level is the studio’s commitment to helping students achieve their goals.
“Kids are not taught how to study, they’re told ‘memorize this’,” said Morris. “We work with them to learn how to study and practice because if you’re not used to chores or responsibilities, you won’t be disciplined. What a lot of kids struggle with is that or too much commitment to too many activities so our job is to constantly remind and help them.”
In six years, Key To Change has come a long way. The studio started its Young Artist Academy program to commemorate its fifth-year anniversary and partnership with the Seattle Symphony. Students in the Young Artist Academy get to participate in special masterclasses and are given more performance opportunities.
During the Solo String Festival in May, the winner of the concerto competition is selected to make their professional debut during the Seattle Symphony’s Community Concerts series. For Dr. Morris though, the biggest change has been the studio’s operating location.
“We taught in Renton and in Maple Valley,” said Morris, who has played at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. “There was a lot of community outreach work when I started and it was just me. In terms of everything, we have a space now.”
The space for both group and private lessons for Key To Change is located at Hope Church NW in Renton, which overlooks the entire city.
To purchase tickets for the Solo String Festival and Spring Salon Fundraiser from May 5-7, visit keytochangestudio.org/event/spring-salon-fundraiser-2023/.