Editor’s Note, June 17 at 10 a.m.: This story was updated to correct an error. MusicWings is currently working on a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club.

One of Alice Cotter’s earliest memories is sitting beside her grandmother on a piano bench. “She would just play the piano and then start weeping because it was so beautiful. And I would just cry with her,” Cotter shared.

She wondered what it was about music that could bring people to tears. In her quest for an answer, she studied piano throughout her childhood, going on to earn a Ph.D. in musicology at Princeton University. Today, she teaches at her Tahoe Donner school, Little Bird Music. However, despite her deep appreciation for music, Cotter is aware of the inherent privilege that often accompanies access to music instruction.

THE ACMS JAZZ BAND performs at the MusicWings event at the Community Arts Center in downtown Truckee. Courtesy photos

“Something that I really wrestle with is the cost of private lessons,” Cotter said. “I was privileged enough to be able to take piano lessons as a kid, but it’s not available to everyone.” 

Music training can come with a hefty price tag. In Truckee, a private music lesson can run anywhere from a dollar a minute to $47 for 30 minutes. With lessons typically occurring each week, this equates to $2,256 per year, on the high side. For some families, music instruction just isn’t financially feasible. In response, Cotter launched MusicWings, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that raises money for music scholarships, available to anyone at any age in the Truckee/North Tahoe community who demonstrates financial need. 

Since its June 2023 launch, MusicWings has raised over $10,000, with contributions from private donors and events such as its launch party, a recital at the Truckee Regional Park Amphitheater. The money has allowed MusicWings to issue five scholarships, which can be used at any music school, two band programs, and two early childhood music education classes.

MUSICWINGS executive director Alice Cotter smiles at the April 12 event that featured ACMS and Truckee High jazz bands, Tahoe Expedition Academy band and choir, Truckee Dance Factory, Truckee Community Theater, Little Bird Music, Steel Sparrows, and Rubicon Gold. Courtesy photo

One scholarship recipient, whose family asked to remain anonymous, received funds to allow their daughter to continue with music lessons while her mother undergoes cancer treatment.

“We were forced to reduce our nonessential expenses, but felt that continuing piano lessons would be beneficial for our daughter’s well-being during this stressful time,” her mother said. “The tuition support provided a sense of normalcy for her as our family navigates cancer treatment.”

MusicWings scholarships are also enhancing music programs in schools through its ambassador program. Zach Lauzon, a MusicWings ambassador and volunteer, offers his expertise in brass instruments, improvisation, and music theory to Alder Creek Middle School and Truckee High School students. He gives short lessons to individual students to help them feel more confident with their instruments and works with different jazz band sections, giving feedback before bigger performances. 

“He did a really great job explaining jazz music theory in a new and accessible way. Some of my students had a-ha moments as a result of his teaching,” said Jesse Steele, music teacher at Truckee High.

Lauzon says he’s happy to be part of the MusicWings mission. “Music and the arts are important pieces of culture,” Lauzon said. “MusicWings aims to help build the foundation of music in our lives, and especially in our young people.”

MusicWings ambassador Brooke Chabot is the director and head teacher at Truckee Tahoe Music Together and has been teaching free classes at the Family Room at Truckee Elementary and the Head Start Preschool at Truckee Pines during the 2023/24 school year as part of an outreach program in collaboration with KidZone. Funded by MusicWings, the goal is to provide a highly accredited music program to children who may not have access to it otherwise.

ZACH LAUZON leads jazz students at Alder Creek Middle School through a practice. Lauzon volunteers his time to work with students as a MusicWings ambassador. Photo by Jared Alden/Moonshine ink

“I hope the experiences the kids have in class will foster their natural love and curiosity of music and ultimately open their hearts to more music experiences in the future,” Chabot said.

MusicWing’s biggest challenges are spreading the word about the scholarships and getting students to their instructors.

“We’re trying to reach the Hispanic community and let them know that this funding is available,” Cotter said.

The nonprofit is working on a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club to address the transportation barrier. “We hope to use their facilities to bring the music classes and the instruments to them; to have instruments there for students to practice on while they’re there after school.”

Cotter said that while the music component is significant, it is equally crucial to create mentorships and introduce trusted adults into the students’ lives. “And that’s another big part of our mission with MusicWings, is to just have more trained professionals in our community be out there working with kids, doing this amazing thing called music, which is all about community and collaboration and all the mental health benefits … of being a musician and playing music together.”

To learn more about MusicWings, you can find them at musicwings.org  


  • Tiffany Connolly

    Tiffany Connolly joined Moonshine Ink in 2023, six years after leaving her teaching career to focus on writing. She owns a small marketing business in Truckee and is thrilled to be writing stories that make an impact. Tiffany holds a bachelor's in art history from UCLA and master's in education from Pepperdine University. She loves fast and flowy mountain bike trails and movie nights with her family.

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