Ben was a serious student of piano. His love was classical music, and he spent many years with his parents attending CSO concerts as a child, then later on his own as a teen. He began learning the basics of rhythm and music through lessons at the Toedtman School of Music here in Cincinnati at age 3 in their Orff classes with Melissa Toedtman. At age 5 he began piano lessons. He was taught by Atarah Jablonsky. Elizabeth Pridonoff, and Christopher Taylor. He further honed his skills through summers at Interlochen Arts Camp. He grew into a young man full of vitality and spontaneity, with a deep sensitivity for beauty.
When Ben was 16 he told us that he had been thinking about how little exposure that disadvantaged children and youth have to classical music. He said he had been thinking about how he could help to make a difference in this situation, and related that he wanted to volunteer his time to expose inner city disadvantaged children to classical music. He envisioned playing recordings of the pieces he loved for them, and getting them as excited about this art form as he was. We put him in contact with Paula Sherman at the Cincinnati Arts Consortium, and together they planned a project where Ben would do just that. After Ben began getting the young people excited about the music, he wanted to teach them piano lessons. He then started looking for used pianos that people would donate in order to teach the children the lessons. Again, on his own (with the help of a U-Haul truck, his mom, and his friends), he found and moved several pianos to the children’s homes, and one into the Arts Consortium, which he then used to teach the lessons. This project continued until Ben went away to college.
Our son’s life was a short one. He died in 2002 at age 19 in a climbing accident. In memory of our son, we have created a scholarship in his name that offers musical instrument lessons to a youth with interest in classical music, who could not otherwise afford lessons on their own. It is administered by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, but funded solely by outside contributions. The CSO locates the students through their connections in the community, then matches them with a CSO member for lessons. Once a teacher and student are matched, the commitment the teacher makes extends until the youth reaches age 18. Thus, a student will receive ongoing support once they start receiving the funds, as long as they maintain interest and progress. It takes approximately $1,000. a year to fund a teacher for weekly lessons for one student. With each individual young person given this opportunity, we are continuing to make Ben’s vision a reality.
Our son had the following quote above his desk at home:
“In the end I think of music as the saving grace for all humanity. As the universal language it transcends the boundaries of nationality, social strata, and political ideology. Whether we are educated or uneducated, rich or poor, whether we speak the same tongue or not, we still possess the ability to communicate our feelings to one another through music. The world would be a terrible place without it, a miserable place.”
- Henry Miller, Reflections
One idea can change the lives of many, even from a 16 year old boy who loved classical music.
Susan Carlson and Philip Berne
Parents of Ben Carlson-Berne