Written By Josie Gulliksen
September 1, 2023 at 5:51 PM

CAP students come from over 53 Miami-Dade County schools develop exceptional skills on their chosen instrument during weekly CAP Saturday Music Classes.

A fixture in Miami’s arts community since 1985, Community Arts Program (CAP) began 38 years ago with its Summer Concert Series, providing a platform for local artists to perform and music lovers to discover them.

Then in 2003, under the leadership of Executive and Artistic Director Mark Hart, an after-school Conservatory for the Arts was established that is still going strong and for which applications are currently being accepted. 

“There are openings for children interested in studying any instrument and there is also CAP Creative Strings and Jazz Ensemble,” said Hart. “The latter is for those students who want to gain experience performing.”

Open to children ages 5-18, the CAP Conservatory for the Arts which takes place at Coral Gables Congregational Church and runs between September and May is an affordable after-school in-depth instrument, music theory, ensemble and performance curriculum. Their mission: “To provide educational and culturally-enriching experiences through the transforming power of music.”

Hart and the caring and dedicated 38-member faculty he’s assembled to teach the students follow that mission to the letter and it’s at the heart of everything they do.

“We offer a very well rounded curriculum that is open to any child of any ability and we operate on a sliding scale to make it available to all income levels. Essentially, we want students to excel no matter their instrument of choice,” said Hart.

The CAP ALL-STAR Jazz Ensemble has been three-year finalists for
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Competition. Photo courtesy of Community Arts Program CAP

Students learn to play but also about music theory and composition. They take a high quality deep dive into the study of music which helps them become total musicians.

“The curriculum looks at music as a career and our ever changing world. We strive to be creative and incorporate all types of music into our lessons. This way, we find whatever type of music speaks to the child and help them see music as a tool and essentially a coping mechanism for life,” said Hart.

Two years ago, they began embracing children with disabilities, pairing them with therapists to help them develop their best course of study. “We know music speaks to that part of the mind and with special needs students, the artistic side we know is heightened,” said Hart.

CAP teachers Dr. Steffen Zeichner and Daniel Strange, both graduates from the renowned University of Miami Frost School of Music, share Hart’s passion for the program. Zeichner is a professor at Florida International UM Frost School of Music’s University and heads up the 5 String Swing Jazz Band while Strange is Chairman of the M.A.D.E. (Modern Artist Development and Entrepreneurship) Degree.

Zeichner, who teaches violin and music theory, became involved in CAP 11 years ago when a position opened up to teach one of the ensembles. Since then, he’s been teaching all age groups and his main objective has always been to provide students with the knowledge they can use to continue teaching themselves in the future.  

“With music, the most important thing is learning how to play, improve and practice effectively and efficiently,” said Zeichner. “I’m convinced that our prodigies buy into effective practicing methods way earlier than the rest of us, learning how to immerse themselves in practice and use critical thinking skills to continually improve.”

Working with Hart for more than a decade, Zeichner is most appreciative “of how supportive he is of our ideas with regards to developing the program. I primarily work as a jazz violinist and he’s been so supportive of some of my goals and visions for string playing,” said Zeichner. “I grew up playing Klezmer music as well as playing in rock and jazz settings and Mark is open to us teaching more than just classical. We’re here to find the types of music that motivates the kids.”

One of those program developments is the implementation of Music Learning Theory, a method that teaches audiation, which allows students to hear sounds and pitches, “inside their head, it’s one of the most important skills a musician can have,” said Zeichner.

CAP ALL-STAR Jazz Ensemble students rehearse backstage before taking center stage at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. In the middle is CAP Teaching Artist Daniel Strange. Photo courtesy of Community Arts Program CAP

Strange originated CAP’s ALL-STAR Jazz Ensemble in 2009 at the urging of Hart who was looking to expand the program and saw him as the ideal candidate.

“In Fall 2009 when Mark approached me about establishing the CAP ALL-STAR Jazz Ensemble to expand the Saturday program I said absolutely,” said Strange. “The first few years we were building it as a big band program but by the Spring of 2013 when we found out we were the finalists in the Community Band Category of the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Competition we switched gears.” They were finalists at the competition three years in a row.

The ALL-STAR group does several live shows throughout the community as well as a live radio show on WDNA 88.9 FM Miami’s jazz station. Strange says the radio show is “different because we are live for a full hour on the radio so it is almost like a live recording so the students have to tap into a different energy. It’s a real rush for them, I always tell them there could be thousands of listeners hearing their performance and that’s exciting.”

They do two live radio shows a year with WDNA and “once that red light goes on in the studio and they’re live, the time just flies by and the next thing they know the hour is gone,” Strange said.

Both photos: CAP Teaching Artist Dr. Steffen Zeichner teaches a greatly expanded world of
string techniques and playing to CAP Creative Strings performing ensemble students.
Photo courtesy of Community Arts Program CAP


When he’s teaching at CAP Strange tries to unlock the creativity of the program’s like minded students. Because the ALL-STAR Jazz Ensemble is heavily composer focused, he gets his students to focus on the oral perspective of the music and how it was passed down, something he says helps them tap into their creative side. “We dive deeper into this heavy intensive in our program,” Strange said.

The deep dive changes the vibe in the room and it leads to Strange making notations and eventually the musicians in the classroom making recordings. It allows them to take their instrument to an improvisational stage and lead the students to create and arrange their own music, even transcribe the music they’re listening to.

“It has really helped the last couple of years, having students that help that culture. It’s contagious and students know when they come to CAP they’ll develop untapped skill sets and all of it is due to our fantastic faculty,” said Strange.

Strange and Zeichner both share that they incorporate aspects of their lessons as professors at their respective universities into their curriculum at CAP.

CAP Performing Ensemble students at one of the live in-studio radio shows at Miami’s WDNA Radio 88.9 FM. Photo courtesy of Community Arts Program CAP


Hart is immensely proud of the program’s reach in the community, boasting that “at this point we have applicants from over 53 schools, as far North as Miami Gardens and as far south as Homestead,” he said.

Perhaps Hart’s philosophy of “there’s a place at the table for all children in the Community Arts Program,” is why the program continues to flourish.

Visit the Community Arts Program website for full details on their wide range of classes and to apply for the upcoming season. is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at

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