Young musicians at Columbia Heights High School got a lesson in songwriting Nov. 20 from band members of Old Dominion and singer-songwriter Josh Osborne.

Columbia Heights Public Schools was one of six districts across the United States who received a $30,000 grant for music education from the CMA Foundation.

Supt. Kathy Kelly said the district has come a long way with music education. A decade ago, the district didn’t even have a band program.

A few years ago, the district received assistance from VH1’s Save the Music Foundation.

“The CMA Foundation was really looking for a diverse district that had their hearts in the arts and was really investing,” Kelly said. “They contacted us on a reference from the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, we applied for their grant and we were selected!”

The grant will fund music education programs in grades K-12 in the Columbia Heights Public School District specifically funding new music instruments, professional development for teachers and equipment for the high school band rooms. The grant already helped fund the high school’s study seminar in New York City last spring.

“The CMA Foundation has really helped us sustain our music program and to keep our heads in the academics and our hearts in the arts,” Kelly said. “We want to provide our students the experiences, tools and skill sets so that if they want, they too can be an artist.”

“We don’t believe we ever save a program,” said CMA Foundation Executive Director Tiffany Kerns. “We believe we should go into a district and merge our funds with theirs. We look for school districts that are struggling, but still make music education work.”

In addition, the school districts get to participate in the CMA Songwriters Series. For Columbia Heights Public School District, the series took place at the high school and involved 25 musicians in grades 9-12.

“The mission of the CMA Foundation is the charitable arm of the Country Music Association,” Kerns said. “The association is responsible for being the voice of the country genre and making sure it is alive and vibrant and that we’re a resource for business. Over a decade ago, songwriters gathered and said they wanted to explore the art behind the song, so the CMA’s developed the Songwriters Series. A few years later, we thought it would be a good idea to bring this to schools to help educate and support young songwriters in our community through the Country Music Foundation.”

During the series, students got to ask the band members of Old Dominion and Josh Osborne a variety of questions about music and songwriting.

“It’s exciting have this opportunity to learn new skills,” said senior Peter Heryla, who plays the piano and percussion in the high school’s band. “It’s cool our school really wants us to succeed as musicians and further our education in new and exciting ways.”

“When you see something you believe it, so when we put musicians and artists in front of students they know there’s a pathway,” Kerns said. “I want students to know it’s not unattainable. You can be an artist.”

Later that night, freshman Sophie Kuether got to perform her original song “Don’t Quit on Me” with Old Dominion members and Osborne at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul.

Kuether has been involved with musical theater since she was seven-years-old and plays the piano and percussion in the high school band. She began seriously composing her own music last year.

“What I got from this workshop is more knowledge on songwriting so now I feel I can be more confident in my work,” she said.

During the series, over 50 U.S. Bank employees volunteered their time to paint the high school’s band room.

“We focus our giving on work, home and play,” said U.S. Bank Community Engagement Manager Gabrielle Mielke. “We wanted to help support the high school’s music education program by assisting with painting the band room.”

Following the series, students with the high school’s marimba band played for U.S. Bank volunteers, Old Dominion members and Osborne.

To learn more about the CMA Foundation, visit


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