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Conservatory Of The Ozarks Says Goodbye With Halloween Recital

Heather Leverich
https://www.facebook.com/ConservatoryoftheOzark
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Heather Leverich, Director of Conservatory of the Ozarks since 2008, posted her arrival at the KSMU studios this morning to social media.

Heather Leverich, director of Conservatory of the Ozarks, joined us on KSMU’s “Arts News” to talk about the Halloween recital the school’s students will present on Sunday Oct.31st at 3:00pm in Drury University’s Clara Thompson Hall. But she also talked openly about the economic hardships the school has undergone since the COVID shutdown—which will result in the shutdown of the COTO itself following Sunday’s concert.

Leverich described COTO as “a fine arts school in Springfield. We have music, art and drama lessons, and we have a variety of different teachers. We’re located over in the Kickapoo Corners Plaza (3623 South Avenue).”

She noted that the Halloween recital on October 31 will be COTO’s “last recital as the organization that it is now, and has been since 2008, with several different teachers in their studios participating. So we have a violin and piano, and guitar and voice, and just a large variety of different performers.” And they will perform various “spooky songs” for Halloween.

“Either we asked the students to prepare something that is spooky, or a song that makes sense with a costume,” Leverich said. “So,if it's a voice student, we usually pick something from musical theater or an opera, so you can wear a costume while you perform. And then everybody votes in the audience for their favorite costume. And we have an incredible prize at the end for the best costume.”

The program is expected to run about an hour, and there’s no admission charge. “It's free for anybody wanting to attend,” according to Heather Leverich. “And we have little pumpkin treats at the end, and the performers all get a little trophy for all of the hard work they put into their performance, practicing ahead of time. So it'll be really fun.”

We then moved on to the eminent closure of Conservatory of the Ozarks in its current form, and a special “goodbye” event scheduled at the COTO headquarters on Saturday November 20. Leverich said that COTO was originally threatened with closure “a year ago last month, because we just lost so many students during the COVID shutdown.”

The Conservatory’s normal working procedure involved students coming to the facility in person and taking lessons and classes from the instructors in their studios there. But during the height of COVID last year, Leverich said, COTO switched to completely virtual (online) instruction. “We did have to switch to completely virtual during the shutdown, of course. But you know, people don't prefer that—they prefer the person-to-person interaction when you're in the same room with this teacher who you've built a relationship with.”

With reduced enrollments, COTO managed to survive during the past year through monetary donations “large and small; also the CARES Act funding and PPP (the Small Business Administration’s “Paycheck Protection Program”)—some government help,” said Leverich. “But this month, October 2021, is the month we'll run out of funding. And man, it really is kind of heartbreaking, because we've had so many students start this fall.”

Ironically, COTO had seen a large increase in student enrollments at the start of the 2021 fall semester. “If this had been a year before COVID,” Leverich added, “this probably would be one of our best years ever. We've had so many people sign up, but it just hasn't been quite enough, fast enough, and we just can't fill that gap.

Thus, today, Friday October 29, 2021, as the last working day of the month, marks the final day Conservatory of the Ozarks will offer classes and lessons in their facility’s studios, as they have done since 2008. Not surprisingly, Heather Leverich noted, “it’s kind of a sad weekend for me.” She is not only the owner of the business and its chief administrator, she is also one of the teachers (piano, voice, autoharp and drama, in her case) who will no longer have a facility to call home.

But Leverich, as owner of the business, said the plans to maintain COTO’s LLC (Limited Liability Company) status under Missouri statute, and she will “transition to teaching out of my house. And for my students, it will, for the most part, be the same. We’ll still do performances and lessons and things like that.” She said the other teachers on staff at COTO will do pretty much the same thing. “They’ll either transition to teaching from their home, or they’ll drive to their students’ homes to teach them—things like that.”

There will be a final “goodbye” event for COTO at their 3263 South Avenue venue, scheduled for Saturday, November 20th from 2:00 to 4:00pm. She’s calling it “Goodbye COTO, Hello Miss Heather.”

As Heather Leverich described the event, “I'm trying to kind of focus on the positives as we move forward, and to also, I guess, appreciate what the Conservatory has meant to me and hopefully has meant to other people in the community. So I thought ‘Goodbye, COTO,’ you know, that's the sad part. And I do want to acknowledge that it's sad… I hope it's sad,” she said with a chuckle. She hopes she isn’t the only person who cares that they’re closing!

So the “Goodbye COTO” event will provide an opportunity for people, be they “past or current students, teachers, families or even just people from the community who have come to our performances throughout the years, anybody is welcome to come. I thought we could do like a fall themed potluck.”

In addition to a potluck, you may find yourself being put to work that afternoon if you’re so inclined. “We have this big painting of our logo in the lobby.” This, of course, has to go, since they’re vacating the building. “So,” said Leverich, “I thought one way of sort of ripping off the Band-Aid would be, we could all help paint over the logo in the lobby… which is sort of sad,” she added wistfully. But she hoped it would provide a fun activity for attendees wanting to say goodbye to COTO. (If you want to help paint over the logo on November 20, be sure to bring a smock to protect your clothes from the paint!)

And of course, Leverich hopes attendees will want to “share stories of what the Conservatory has meant to you.” She said she “would love to see anybody who’s taken lessons there before—that would be a fun little reunion.”

For information on the “Goodbye COTO” event, visit the Conservatory of the Ozarks Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ConservatoryoftheOzark, or call (417) 592-1756, or email conservatoryoftheozarks@gmail.com.

As we closed out the interview, “Miss Heather” said she wanted to say “thank you to everybody who either donated money, or even just shared our social media posts.” Considering that those donations helped her keep COTO’s doors open for one more full year, Leverich said, “that means a lot to me that people would give and share. And when we thought we were going to close last yea,r reading all the messages people wrote about how sad they were, how much the conservatory meant to them, it was really meaningful to me and I'm really grateful for that.”

Asked how many students have come through COTO’s doors since they opened in 2008, Heather Leverich was at a bit of a loss. “I’m not the best at keeping track of things that,” she admitted. “It’s a very good question!” But she did estimate that at the Conservatory’s peak “we would hover, maybe, between 160 and 200 students for our enrollment,” which would equal somewhere between 2000 and 2600 students over the school’s 13-year lifespan, ranging in age from toddlers to adults. Currently COTO has eight or nine instructors on its faculty, about half of its pre-COVID peak of 15 to 20 teachers.

But, life goes on—one door closes, another opens. Still trying to put a positive spin on things, Leverich said, “on a personal note,” Leverich added, “I just got married, and my husband and I are hoping to start a family. So I'm just trying to think like, ‘well, it'll probably be less stressful, more time to, you know, I'm more flexible if we start a family.’ And it'll take our group lessons weeks to a whole new level. I feel like our musical ‘tea parties’ are going to be so much more amazing,” she laughed.