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Music college abruptly closes in St. Paul; students, faculty shocked, saddened

ST. PAUL — Megan Freitas, 21, was heading to her last class of the day in downtown St. Paul on Thursday, Dec. 14, when she got an email that would change everything.

“It is with deep regret that we are writing to you to inform you that McNally Smith College of Music must discontinue all course offerings at the end of this fall semester, 2017,” stated the email sent out by college officials.

Instructors had received a different email shortly before from board chairman Jack McNally explaining that the private music school, which has been a fixture in downtown St. Paul for nearly 20 years, did not have enough money to make payroll and would be closing Dec. 20 at the end of the semester.

“You’d think it was a funeral,” Freitas said. “All the halls were filled with people just crying, teachers, students, everybody.”

Freitas cried, too, for several hours afterward, and on her bus ride home. She is a military kid from Boston who has moved so many times, she had come to see the school as her home. She was only 15 credits away from getting her bachelor’s degree in general music, with dreams of teaching music herself one day.

Jack McNally could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but he stated in the email that while the college did not have enough money to keeping paying its employees, the school’s owners were committed to making good on the wages owed.

McNally Smith is a private two- and four-year college with an average yearly enrollment of approximately 600 students and 100 faculty members. It teaches music performance, music production and the business side of music.

“For nearly 2 years we have been in the process of becoming a nonprofit college and we have been seeking funding necessary to establish the college on firm financial footing as a nonprofit institution,” the email stated. “In spite of our best efforts, we have been unable to obtain this funding and the cash necessary to fund ongoing operations.”

Students and faculty expressed their shock and dismay on social media.

On Facebook, trumpet and jazz teacher Adam Meckler wrote, “It has been one of the great joys of my life to teach at McNally Smith College of Music. Over the last four years, I have worked with some of the most unbelievably inspiring students, particularly in my Fusion Ensemble. These students have challenged me to be a better musician and educator year in and year out. I’m saddened that my time with them is coming to a sudden close.”

School officials said they were working with other schools to help students make a smooth transition.

Freitas worries her credits won’t transfer, just when she was almost finished. Her tuition, she said, is $38,000 a year, which makes her wonder how the school could go broke.

Jack McNally blames the general decline of higher education.

“For several years the college has been experiencing declining enrollment and revenue, the like of which has never been seen,” the email stated.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman released a statement expressing his sadness over the closing.

“McNally Smith College of Music has been a critical partner for many years as we have developed a vibrant downtown with arts centering the rebirth. A generation of artists have been nurtured and developed within the walls of the school. Young musicians have found a place to develop their talent. I am deeply saddened by McNally Smith’s closure,” he said.

The school’s final commencement ceremony is still on for Saturday at the adjoining History Theatre.

Originally started in Minneapolis as Musictech College, the school moved to downtown St. Paul in 2001, taking over and renovating part of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s former complex at Exchange and Wabasha streets.

Musictech was founded in 1985 by Jack McNally and Doug Smith. In 2005, the school honored its founders by changing its name to the McNally Smith College of Music.

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