Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'm Stupid

I guess Nick and I are just stupid.

We got the lovely email from Jaime Austria and I have explored the El Sistema-NYC website. The names, the connections, the information... and Jaime has sent me tons of research and correspondence. We don't even begin to compare.

Unlike the other programs planning to duplicate El Sistema's success in the US, we came up with the idea, incorporated aspects of El Sistema and started teaching within just six months. Now we have 130 students.

Our logic was that planning was pointless. We couldn't know what to plan for until we had tried it--locations, teachers, instruments, supplies. How do you budget for the unimagined?

We were so right. Each of our locations, Cave9, Hill Elementary, and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is totally different. At Hill Elementary we have learned so much that we'll be forever in debt to the students and Mr. Greene. And the value of the connections made at Cave9 has cemented plans to always offer free walk-in music lessons somewhere, somehow. Every day, new experiences help us adapt the program to suit the conditions we find.

I cashed in my IRAs and donated $37,500 to get us started. I can say that now because I know my mom figured it out--she's barely emailed or called for the last several weeks. She definitely thinks I'm stupid. Dominique and others tried to persuade me not to, as well. And I truly appreciate their concern.

What they don't understand is that the vision I see is so much bigger than me that I don't matter. It's like standing under a starry sky and feeling like a speck of dust before the unfolding universe. If we can get this to work, it will be so powerful that it will change our community, maybe society. How does my well-being matter in the face of such possibility?

It sounds so grandiose and impossible, even to me. Until I'm standing there at Cave9 with music lessons happening in every corner, connections growing between races, ages, zip codes. Until I see Matthew, who we met at the Jazz Hall of Fame sit next to Tyler, surrounded by an astounding array of instruments they both play, discussing the duet Tyler composed for them to play in Tuscumbia. Until I see that smile when one of the Hill piano students gets to take home the little keyboard for the weekend.

And there are the staff. More than one has walked out of Hill Elementary after their first day announcing that it's too much and they can't come back. Every single one has called within 24 hours saying they'll be back. I watched Travis visibly get sucked into the Scrollworks vortex as he taught at guitar at Cave9. He's been back repeatedly.

We decided to act instead of spending months or years researching and planning. That leaves us in a tight financial spot as we finish the school year and await 501(c)3 determination. But we can now plan and budget accurately. We know what facilities we need for different student populations. We know how many teachers we need and how they need to be prepared. We know what instruments are in high demand. We know some teaching approaches for different situations. Even so, we still don't know very much. And yet we know we've already made a difference.

There were a few moments before we started teaching that I thought I may have made a mistake with my money. In the last two months I have determined that there will be no regrets. I have never spent a penny more wisely in my entire life.

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