Dorothy L. Bounds, founder of Dorolyn Academy of Music in Oak Park, poses for a portrait inside her office on March 24. The music academy will be closing soon after ore than 30 years. Below: The hands of one of Bounds’ students during a recent lesson. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal
Monday, March 28, 2016 || By Michael Romain
“When we first started this thing I didn’t have a dime. I just knew God had called me to it,” said Dorothy L. Bounds during a recent interview.
“I didn’t even have a job. I clipped coupons from the paper and every time I went shopping I’d just use the coupons and put $0.30 or $0.40 back into savings until I got $1,003. That’s how Dorolyn Academy of Music got started.”
The music school, located in nearby Oak Park, has become a venerable institution since it was founded more than 30 years ago with 13 students and five instructors tutoring piano, organ, voice, guitar and drums. Bounds said her former students now number in the thousands, range from toddlers to senior citizens and can be found “all over the world.”
Sam Saletta — perhaps best known for his part as Butch in the 1994 movie “The Little Rascals” — and his sister, actress Nicole Saletta, are former students. So is well-known Gospel singer Kim Stratton. Gospel icons like Walter Hawkins, Vickie Winans and Hezekiah Walker have come to the Oak Park school to perform.
Bounds, a longtime resident of Maywood, is now retiring from musical instruction to pursue other life ambitions and to spend some time with her husband. The school’s longtime South Boulevard location, which was formerly a casket company, will be turned into a daycare center.
After so many years, and with such success, it can all seem so inevitable. Far from it, though, said Bounds. The Mississippi native said she’s been passionate about music since she was 10 years old, but she didn’t start her academy until she was in her mid-forties. Up until then, she had trained choirs and singers across the Chicago area and in other states; however, it took a leap of faith — and a heap of financial discipline — to go into teaching music full-time.
In 1982, Bounds acquired her first location at 418 N. Austin Blvd., a 1,500 square foot space that included five studios — all of which needed to be maintained. Bounds also had to pay her instructors, among other costs. She even helped put some students through college.
“If we saw they wanted to go to school, we would somehow help them,” she said.
Then, as now, Bounds, whose academy is registered as a nonprofit, charged only minimal tuition for her lessons and welcomed students from underserved neighborhoods. Tuition was $5 a week. The rest of the money she raised from her own savings, personal donations and creative fundraising campaigns.
“There were small contributions, private contributions, noting really big,” Bounds said. “But let me tell you. I’m one who walks by faith and that’s a fact. I’ve walked by faith and somehow every bill was paid. It’s been a miracle.”
By 1990, Bounds began getting students at such a rate that she needed to somewhere bigger to teach. That year, flush with money she’d saved over the years and her surplus faith, Bounds negotiated the purchase of the 15,000 square-foot location she’s in today. Asked what may have attracted students to her instruction, Bounds cited her relaxed teaching style and her values.
“I’m drive by my values and my beliefs,” she said. “The first thing I do when training a student is make that student comfortable. Instead of showing them what they don’t know, I let them realize what they do know first — and then we build on that.”
Bounds said she’s referred her students to other music schools in the area. In addition, she said, many of the instructors who worked under her will continue teaching. Even though its founder is retiring, Dorolyn won’t be retired entirely.
As for Bounds herself, it’s on to other pursuits — like publishing her doctoral thesis, which explores sacred church music, and a cookbook featuring soul food recipes. And then, there’s perhaps the most unlikely of her post-musical pursuits. Bounds will be active in her church, but it won’t be from the choir stand.
The senior citizen is head of her Chicago church’s security department and oversees at least 15 people to that end. She has international professional certifications and a concealed carry license. When asked if that array of training includes, perhaps, a martial arts degree, Bounds softly, but firmly, straightened her posture — as erect as a pianist.
“Don’t try me,” she said, before laughing. VFP