Nathaniel Sheppard, a junior at Harrison High School, is in his second year at the Colorado Springs Conservatory, thanks to the generosity of Colorado donors.
Sheppard first caught the attention of program director Ian Ferguson a little over a year ago through a partnership program the Conservatory has with Harrison School District 2. Knowing Sheppard couldn’t afford to attend Conservatory classes, Ferguson encouraged the teen to apply for scholarships. Sheppard did, and when he learned he would be able to study at the Conservatory on a full scholarship, he knew it was an opportunity he would treasure.
“Being here lets you escape. I learn from the other students and it’s really helping me grow,” Sheppard said.
The Conservatory strives to serve students who want to pursue a passion for the arts, regardless of socioeconomic status, said the school’s founder and CEO Linda Weise. Community benefactors are key to their success.
“It is through the generosity, trust, support and shared vision of those that believe in the power of quality arts education that we are afforded the opportunity to bring programming to those students who would otherwise go without,” Weise said.
The scholarships provided by individuals and community foundations result in training for young actors, singers and musicians who come from across the region to study at the Conservatory. Sheppard does not take his inclusion in that group lightly. While most teens might head straight for imitating their favorite rock guitarist, Sheppard is starting with the fundamental skills learned from playing classical guitar. Instead of Beck, he is learning Beethoven.
“Nathaniel is unique,” Ferguson said. “He’s among the 20-30 percent of students here on full scholarship who do a great job practicing and learning while he’s had to overcome some obstacles.”
Sheppard’s father once played the saxophone and bass, but after suffering a stroke, was unable to manage his instruments. He also cannot drive, but that didn’t stop him from proudly taking a cab ride to register his son for classes at the Conservatory on Sahwatch Street on the south end of downtown. Ferguson has often provided rides home for Sheppard, who is determined to make it to his classes.
“He’s just the nicest, most hard-working and respectful young person,” Ferguson said. “He has high expectations for himself.”
Sheppard practices each morning and in the evenings. Ferguson said when Sheppard returned to the Conservatory after the summer away, his diligence was evident.
“You know when you have mastered a piece is when you can play it to the beat of the metronome, when you can hear the emotion in the piece but you can play it to correct speed,” said Sheppard, who plans to study law. Ferguson said Conservatory staff meet with college-bound students to find out how the school can help them reach their goals.
For now, Sheppard understands the importance of developing his foundational musical skills, though he’s looking forward to expanding his talent.
“My family listens to more old-school jazz music,” Sheppard said. “My stepmom likes to hear everything I play, but my dad is waiting to hear some jazz.”