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A Passion for the Arts: OC Music and Dance

Photo courtesy of OC Music and Dance

When Pick Up Stix founder Charles Zhang moved to the United States at 23 years old, he had $20 in his pocket, a talent for playing the clarinet and an acceptance to the Pasadena Conservatory of Music. Despite his passion for music, Zhang was forced to drop out after only one semester, as he could not afford to continue paying the tuition. He got a job as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant to help remedy his financial struggles. Tragically, an on-the-job injury left him with permanent damage in his fingers, causing him to lose his ability to play the clarinet. Shortly following this unfortunate incident, Zhang shifted his focus from music to the restaurant industry. He bought a Chinese restaurant, then another restaurant, and soon enough, he had created Pick Up Stix, growing the restaurant chain to over 100 locations, before selling the successful chain to pursue other ventures. Still, after all that time, Charles Zhang’s passion for music never waned, and as his success grew, his desire to give back to the community grew as well. So, in 2017, Zhang combined his passion for music with his passion for community, and he and his wife Ling created OC Music and Dance.

Barely two years later, OC Music and Dance (OCMD) is one of the only non-profit community music and dance schools in Orange County. Already serving nearly 600 students, the school boasts a broad range of classes in voice, dance and music. While its fast growth is impressive, it is reasonable to see such development from a company that boasts such a notable, hands-on Board of Directors, which includes notable community figures such as Pacific Symphony President John E. Forsyte and Orange County School of the Arts founder Ralph S. Opacic, Ed.D. Doug Freeman, former Board Chair of the Pacific Symphony and highly recognized philanthropist, also serves as the school’s CEO.

Photo courtesy of OC Music and Dance

Charles Zhang’s passion and history are seen in his dedication to making sure every child and teen can receive the highest quality education in music and dance, regardless of their ability to pay. OCMD provides its students with scholarships of up to 90 percent for private lesson tuition and up to 50 percent for group lesson tuition. The vast majority of students at OCMD are on some variation of scholarship, which is based on one of two ways. The first way a student can attain a scholarship is if they meet California’s eligibility requirement for free or reduced cost breakfast or lunch (Title 1). The second is discretionary, based off a personal interview and demonstration of financial need. Zhang and his Board of Directors work tirelessly to ensure that no child is kept from pursuing their dreams, and have funded a growing endowment to ensure continuation of the scholarship program.  

OCMD has created a state-of-the-art facility for their students to learn in, inside their building which they also share with the Pacific Symphony. With eight music rooms, two dance studios, a recording studio and a beautiful 150-seat black box theater, complete with state-of-the-art electronics, OCMD has more up-to-date equipment than some schools that have been around for decades longer. The school even has its own café, run by the non-profit social enterprise Monkey Business Café, which is open to the public Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Friday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. The café even puts on live events, like open-mic nights, for the general public and students alike.

Photo courtesy of OC Music and Dance

In the passions of community-building of its board members, OCMD strives to collaborate with the surrounding performing arts community. They work with local schools to help place music teachers in performing arts education classes at all levels, and rather than view other studios and schools as competition, they work to collaborate with them and help each other grow. This summer, OCMD will also be hosting a select group of music students from China through their Steinway International Piano Preparatory Academy. Participating students will take masterclasses from renowned master teachers and participate in performances with the Pacific Symphony and Orchestra Santa Monica.

Bringing in some of the top educators from around Orange County, OCMD’s selection of classes is just as unique as everything else about it. In dance, they provide classes in ballet, hip-hop and contemporary, as well as traditional Chinese folk dance, Mexican Folklorico and Indian classical dance. They are also building up new programs in jazz and tap.

In music, they provide group and private lessons for almost any type of instrument. Even more impressive, once students have gained the basic skills of their instruments and become comfortable with playing, they have the option to join musical ensembles. These ensembles teach students to not only play their instrument, but also how to play well with other musicians and perform in front of live audiences.

OCMD also provides group and private voice lessons, musical theater classes and music skills classes for children and teens of all ages. Two of their newer programs include “The Pop Academy,” an intensive workshop that takes students through all the elements of building a career in the pop music industry, including stage performance, songwriting and recording, and “Jazz 360,” a comprehensive program designed to incorporate jazz music, voice and dance into one mutually beneficial curriculum.

OC Music and Dance is a state-of-the-art and well-supported non-profit music and dance school that is dedicated to nurturing, inspiring and empowering its students grow and succeed. It is an important, growing facet of Irvine, not only for kids and teens, but for the community as a whole. For more information on OCMD, you can visit their website at ocmusicdance.org.