PITTSFIELD -- Ever since it opened in 1940, the Berkshire Music School has served as an educational center for young people.
The school, originally the Pittsfield Community Music School, was renamed in 2001 to broaden its countywide profile.
And now, reflecting increasing academic, extracurricular and sports commitments as well as population trends, the school is fine-tuning its mission to attract adults enhancing or developing musical skills.
Building up those dual approaches as well as shoring up the school's finances is the challenge cited by Executive Director Tracy Wilson as she approaches her 10th anniversary in the venerable building at 30 Wendell Ave.
Wilson noted that that adults comprised 25 percent of the student body during the past school year -- a figure that rose to nearly 50 percent for summer programs.
Hence, its new slogan: "Music is Ageless!"
The shift toward adult involvement began gradually with singer Sherri James Buxton's adult cabaret workshops, which have expanded in recent years. New or enhanced ventures include guitar and ukulele workshops for adults led by Rob Sanzone of New Marlborough, a well-known South County musician who joined BMS last spring and also teaches at Miss Hall's School.
"Music brightens my life and I just love the ukulele," said Joan Devoe of Lanesborough, who took up the instrument a year ago. "It makes you smile, it makes people happy. It's just fun and it's not hard. It's good for your motor dexterity and overall well-being. I'm going to do as much music as I can."
As she tuned up for Sanzone's class on Thursday afternoon, the speech-language pathologist who retired in 2011 from Mount Greylock Regional High School added that she hopes to help form a ukulele club.
Aloha Winchester, a classmate, recalled how she found an old ukulele while cleaning out her closets and decided to learn the instrument at BMS. "It preserves whatever youth I have left," said the former home health aide staffer for HospiceCare of the Berkshires.
"One-third of the students enrolling now are adults, mostly soon-to-be-retired or early retirement people, mid-50s to mid-70s," said Wilson, compared to perhaps 5 percent a decade ago. "We're seeing an increase because as we get older, we're doing everything we can to keep our minds challenged, and we know that learning a musical instrument is going to do much to keep our brains stimulated."
Part of the heightened interest -- apart from adults with more time available hoping to play music with their grandchildren -- stems from the cultural orientation of the Berkshires, according to Wilson. "We have a lot of people retiring or living in this area," she said, "and these people value the arts. We don't have to say to them, ‘music is a wonderful thing.' They know it already."
Despite what she described as a "pretty big decline" in enrollment over the past decade, Wilson found by checking with leaders of similar music schools nationally that a drop-off averaging 10 to 15 percent in recent years is typical.
"Students have just been getting busier and busier, with after-school jobs and more responsibilities," she explained.
Because of area school systems' emphasis on science and math, Wilson said, students have less time for in-school electives such as music and art and little room in their schedules for private music lessons offered at BMS.
Just over half of BMS revenues are from tuition and registration fees, while the rest is provided by fundraising, special events such as the annual Music Marathon Weekend, 5 percent interest a year from the remaining endowment, and rental income from apartments and parking spaces on the school's downtown property.
"I'm hoping that next year, we actually have a balanced budget," she added. The current "revenue gap" is about $20,000 on a $550,000 budget.
Wilson, who also conducts the Stockbridge Festival Chorus, is focused on involving the school more deeply in the community while accelerating development and fundraising. "I've been able to bring the school up, but I'd like to do more," she said.
Wilson stressed that "instead of being a closed institution where people would come and do music, we've really been taking music out to the public."
She listed performances by students at senior centers and assisted-living facilities as well as at HospiceCare of the Berkshires, Third Thursdays, the Rotary Club, two annual Berkshire Athenaeum programs, and appearances at events such as the United Cerebral Palsy telethon.
In order to attract students who may be unsure if they can commit to the school year, the school is offering a trial lesson or a three-lesson introductory package for $100.
Leading up to the school's 75th anniversary celebrations in the 2014-15 year, Wilson declared: "I'd like to make a big splash in this community and build the endowment back up to where it was in its heyday 20 to 30 years ago."
Snapshot: Berkshire Music School
Location: 30 Wendell Ave., Pittsfield.
History: Non-profit organization founded in 1940 by local cultural leader Winnie Davis Long Crane, a local cultural leader, who left a $1 million endowment upon her death. Renamed in 2001 to broaden countywide profile.
Enrollment (current): 300 for 34-week school year.
Enrollment (2003): 450.
Staff: Three full-time, three part-time. Also: 12-member governing board, 15-member advisory board.
Faculty: 40 (half with master's degrees)
Facilities: Open 60 hours a week for lessons, coaching; 14 teaching studios and 90-seat recital hall.
Sessions: Music for Early Ages; Music for Youngsters; Introduction to Suzuki; Ensemble Mix; BMS Orchestra; Jazz Ensemble; Chamber Ensembles; Flute Choir; Guitar and Ukulele Clubs; Cabaret Workshops; Music Mind Games.
Private lessons: Piano; piano jazz; electronic keyboard; violin; viola; cello; double bass; guitar; flute; clarinet; oboe; bassoon; saxophone; recorder; trumpet; cornet; French horn; trombone; baritone horn; voice; percussion; theory; composition.
Summer programs: 10 camps for students of all ages.
Tuition, fees: Vary according to class; 12 percent of students receive financial aid; no one turned away for inability to pay; $16,000 in scholarships last year.
Annual budget: $550,000 (revenue gap: $20,000).
Current endowment total: $400,000.
Information: berkshiremusicschool.org or (413) 442-1411.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto