Questions and Answers: Damien Crutcher builds character through music for Detroit students at Crescendo Detroit

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Damien Crutcher, MM ’96, delivers the commencement address at the UM School of Music, Theater & Dance in 2021. He urged students to “put people first in everything you do.”

When Damien Crutcher fell in love with music, his whole world opened up. As the leader of Crescendo Detroit, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, he extends the gift of music to Detroit children. Crutcher also conducts the Farmington Community Band and the Detroit Symphony’s Community Concert Band.

How did you become a musician?

I was born and raised in Detroit Public Schools and had a dynamic music teacher in elementary school. I started playing the trumpet in fifth grade. I wasn’t much of a trumpet player and my cass teacher suggested I play another instrument. I saw PBS and I saw an orchestra and I saw the french horn. The next day I said to him, “I want to play the instrument they put in the bill like that.” He pulled one out, and he turned my life upside down and upside down. So many paths have opened up for me.

How did you come to the University of Michigan for your masters?

I was recruited to study music at Michigan State and while I was there I started taking conducting lessons from a black graduate student. When I was teaching music in Oak Park, UM offered a week-long conducting camp and I went. H. Robert Reynolds, considered the greatest wind band conductor of all time, recruited me to study conducting and be his research assistant.

What made you decide to found Crescendo?

I have done many guest consultations at many suburban schools. And I noticed that when I crossed Eight Mile, I didn’t see any kids walking down the street with instrument cases. At the time, most Detroit schools did not have music programs. So I decided to start Crescendo to make sure the students have the opportunity to engage with music. We started with 11 kids and now have 50.

How did the program develop?

We are truly committed to listening to the child, the parents and the community. DJing and music production was something that people brought up and we added and they were very successful. We also have financial education, dance, singing music, physical education, social emotional learning. We have two cooks and at the end of each session we sit down with parents and children and eat a full meal.

We’ve been with the Salvation Army in Chicago and Dexter for three years. When we have parents who have problems, they help us. They give us toys and coats for Christmas – they load us up!

How did your time at the University of Michigan shape you?

My time in Michigan was very special. I have learned that mentoring is particularly important. Professor Reynolds has been involved in everything I’ve done since 1996. He contributes to Crescendo; He guest conducted my community bands. When I taught high school, I nurtured my children the same way. Some of these students work with me at Crescendo Detroit. I had and still have an amazing village.