Chamber music and a tavern.

Chamber music and a tavern.

The two concepts don't seem to belong together, but this combination more than 25 years ago led to the creation of an organization that stages two music series and works in partnership with another nonprofit to introduce inner-city youth to musical genres they might otherwise never hear.

CityMusic, which now operates out of an office at 700 Morse Road, was formerly known as the Short North Performing Arts Association Inc., which is fitting since it got its start with what was supposed to be a onetime experiment at playing chamber music inside the Short North Tavern.

The community-based organization is "dedicated to presenting the greater Columbus community with unique cultural and educational experiences in the musical arts," according to its website.

But it only was supposed to be a onetime performance by a trio - oboe, harpsichord and flute - in a bar, no less.

Founder and artistic director Steve Rosenberg is still somewhat amazed at what grew out of "really what was a lark of a concert."

Back in 1983, when the Short North was what these days is charitably referred to as a "neighborhood in transition," Rosenberg and some friends used to get together for a casual potluck and some musical entertainment at his home. He was the oboist in what was called the Quantz Trio, with harpsichordist Sam Peebles and flutist Tacy Edwards.

These gatherings gained in popularity, Rosenberg said, prompting him to ask Short North Tavern owner John Allen about the trio performing at his bar on a Sunday afternoon. The idea was sufficiently "outside the box" to appeal to the tavern owner, Rosenberg said.

"There were no plans to do it more than once," he recalled.

A small notice was placed in The Columbus Dispatch and Rosenberg was interviewed on WOSU-FM, which plays classical music. And then a surprising thing happened as this highbrow art form took place in the somewhat lowbrow setting.

"Literally there was a line out the door and we couldn't get everyone in," Rosenberg said.

The success of that first performance led to the creation of a chamber music series that moved, after 17 years, from the Short North Tavern to the Elevator Brewery and Draught Haus and more recently to the grand ballroom of the Athletic Club of Columbus.

Nonprofit status for the music series was obtained in 1987 to seek grant money, Rosenberg said, and that eventually led to creation of a second series, this one focusing on world music.

"The 'World Music Series' is the only central Ohio series devoted exclusively to presenting the best in traditional and contemporary world and folk music," according to the Web site.

CityMusic annually stages four concerts in the chamber series and five in the world music series, running from early fall to early spring.

In 1990, seeking to reach an even broader audience, CityMusic formed a partnership with the Godman Guild, a United Way of Central Ohio agency, to create the "Musical Opportunities Reward Everyone" program. MORE, as it is called, is an outreach effort to introduce students from the inner city, primary from the Weinland Park and Fifth Avenue elementary schools and the Columbus Arts Impact Middle School, to a variety of music. The late folksinger Odetta Holmes, in Columbus for the world music series, was the first performer to participate in MORE, Rosenberg said.

CityMusic's founder shakes his head when he thinks about what grew out of that "lark of a concert."

"It's so wonderful to see that it still occupies a special niche in the cultural landscape," he said. "Nobody else is really to this day approaching chamber music the way we do."

CityMusic is supported by the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Ohio Arts Council, the Columbus Foundation, WOSU and the Athletic Club of Columbus.

Erin Phelan, executive director of CityMusic, is the other paid staff member. Phelan, who has a master's degree in clarinet performance, came to Columbus from Colorado where she was working for a literacy program. Prior to that, she spent several years working for a nonprofit organization in Austin, Texas, that had a similar mission to that of CityMusic.

"It's an unsung gem in the Columbus community," Phelan said. "I think what's unique about CityMusic, typically when you talk about classical music you use the world 'culture.' Typically, you're talking about high culture.

"When CityMusic talks about culture, we're talking about all cultures."

Looking to the future, Phelan said that she hopes to bring greater awareness of CityMusic's existence and various programs to central Ohio residents.

"My main focus right now is getting the word out so more people are aware what we are and what we do," she said.