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The Wheels on the Bus Meany!

September 21, 2023

Despite its gentle name, the Ladies Musical Club (LMC) is all muscle when it comes to promoting access to the arts in Seattle.

Founded in 1891, LMC initially comprised 22 women who were trained musicians interested in providing opportunities to other women at a time when the chance to pursue any kind of professional career — let alone one in music — was vanishingly small. By 1900, the Club had begun their vaunted International Artist Series, which brought such luminaries as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Jascha Heifetz, Marian Anderson, Vladimir Horowitz, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Joshua Bell and Emanuel Ax to Seattle. Keep in mind that at that point in time, Seattle was a frontier town, the last stop on the road to the Alaskan gold fields. 

132 years later, LMC is still going strong — and still dedicated to introducing live performing arts to those who have the least access to them: Seattle school children. The Club’s Music in the Schools program started in 1989 as a collaboration with another grassroots organization called Classical Music Supporters. Both groups were concerned by the lack of music education in public schools, and so in 1990 they began doing presentations in elementary schools.

In 1995, Ladies Musical Club began partnering with then-UW World Series to take visiting classical musicians into the schools (their first joint residency was with the Ying String Quartet) and also bring schools to Meany for free student matinees.

The matinee series has always been popular with students, and Meany serves more than 80 schools in the region. The performances are free of charge, but many schools still face a barrier to bringing their students: the cost of transportation. So in 1996, LMC began their bussing program, and they are still assisting under resourced schools today, paying the full cost of renting busses. 

Their greatest commitment is to Title One Schools (those with 35% or more students living below the poverty line), and they work directly with the schools to determine what kind of support they need. Transportation subsidies go directly to the school. 

Why do they do it?  LMC’s Executive Director Whitney Henderson says, “If you’ve ever had the privilege to watch kids get the opportunity to attend live music or dance, you can feel the changes it brings about in children. It really can be life-changing.” She recalls attending a free matinee with Step Afrika!. “The kids were wiggly — over the moon, engaged with their classmates. It was an experience like no other.”