Saturday, May 31, 2008

Do You Care About Birmingham? 5 Questions

Scrollworks is a really big idea. Seriously. It will change Birmingham.
I know you don't believe me. A year ago, I wouldn't have believed me, either.
It's like the lady says in 'Tocar y Luchar' as she wipes tears from her eyes (and I am definitely paraphrasing):
'If only 10% of what they say is true, it would be wonderful, but I've come here and found it's 110% true.'
And the lady who followed Dudamel to Venezuela to decide whether to hire him for the LA Phil. When asked what surprised her most about her visit to El Sistema, she said she was astonished at how much she cried.
Why did they cry? Because this is a really big idea. It changes lives.

Scrollworks is bringing our version of El Sistema to Birmingham. And it's every bit as powerful.
If you doubt, come see it. I have no qualms inviting you because I have watched people's faces as they 'get' it.

The community is hungry for this. We've gone from nothing in February to perhaps 500 students this summer. We could easily double that. We'll be teaching at 7 locations--and have a waiting list of interested places. We even have a waiting list for teachers. What we don't have is money.

I firmly believe that there are people out there who would help us financially if they knew about us.
We just need to learn how to find them.

This morning I was reading Drew McLellan's Marketing Minute. He says:
...people only buy when they are in pain and have the money to solve that pain. When I ask someone to buy, it's not personal. If they are in pain and have the money to solve the pain, they will buy from me (assuming I can solve that pain).
How can anyone read the Birmingham News and not be in pain for our city?
Scrollworks is not just a pain reliever, it can heal the heart of this city.
Would you like to buy some of this medicine?

5 Questions:
Do you care about Birmingham?
We do. That's why we created the Metropolitan Youth Orchestras and Scrollworks.

Would you like to break down the barriers between race and class that hold Birmingham back?
Music touches every soul, crossing those barriers and bringing people together. Come to Cave9 and see.

Do the children of Birmingham deserve what the children in the barrios of Venezuela are getting?
Every child in the world deserves it, but we'll start with Birmingham.

Would you like to change the image that pops in people's minds when you say you're from Birmingham?
Our vision is to have the world bring to mind a rainbow of children working together to produce harmony in their orchestra and their community.

How much will you give to change the world?
I gave $37, 500.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lead still a big problem

From the LA Times: measuring blood levels of lead before birth and during the first seven years of life, then correlating the levels with arrest records and brain size, Cincinnati researchers have produced the strongest evidence yet that lead plays a major role in crime.

The researchers also found that lead exposure is a continuing problem despite the efforts of the federal government and cities to minimize exposure.

The average lead levels in the study "unfortunately are still seen in many thousands of children throughout the United States," said Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

The link between criminal behavior and lead exposure was found among even the least-contaminated children in the study, who were exposed to amounts of lead similar to what the average U.S. child is exposed to today, said Landrigan, who was not involved in the study.

"People will sometimes say, 'This is in the past. We are cleaning up lead. We don't have lead problems anymore,' " said criminologist Deborah W. Denno of Fordham University in New York, who also was not involved in the study. "The Ohio study says this is still a big problem."

Nationwide, about 310,000 children between the ages of 1 and 5 have blood lead levels above the federal guideline of 10 micrograms per deciliter, and experts suspect that many times that number have lower levels that are still dangerous.

"It is a national disgrace that so many children continue to be exposed at levels known to be neurotoxic," said neurologist David C. Bellinger of Harvard Medical School, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study published in the online journal PLoS Medicine.

Although some urban soil is still contaminated with lead from gasoline, 80% of lead exposure now comes from houses built before 1978. Paint in such houses can contain as much as 50% lead, and even if it has been covered by newer, lead-free paint, it still flakes or rubs off.

Everyone is a Musical History

From John Keillor's column in the National Post, which was brought to my attention by Jaime Austria of El Sistema-NYC:
The point is that everyone of us is a musical history. Whether you were raised on Hall and Oates or Romanian zither music makes no difference. We are all built out of experiences that accumulate to form a broader perspective of contemplation, where Peking Opera can end up being compared with Brahms' choral music, or where Kanye West's tunes can be associated with Hugo Wolf's lieder. Does that sound impossible? Only people are more diverse than music. If you're listening to a Hayden string quartet and the Ramones pop into your head, or if Berlioz brings to mind Bhangra music, that's you hearing your way. And you're better for it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Social Power Enhances Brain Power

From the Economist:
...simply putting someone into a weak social position impairs his cognitive function. Conversely, “empowering” him, in the dread jargon of sociology, sharpens up his mind.

...those lacking in power suffered adverse cognitive effects from that very lack, and thus had difficulty maintaining their focus on the tasks.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can we have a light bulb for Heaven?

From an article in the Telegraph:
"You know, SeƱor Abreu is regarded as almost a saint in Venezuela," says Bishop Holloway to me sotto voce as Abreu arrives. He seems somewhat in awe of Abreu and talks of his encounter with El Sistema as a life-changing experience.

"I've always had a concern for socially deprived children of Britain, and I've always been struck by the way we only spend huge amounts on children once they become problems. How can we do something that will bring a real generational change? Then I read about the Venezuelan experience and a light bulb lit up in my head.

"They'd found a way of releasing the energies of people, so they could do things for themselves, instead of having things done to them. So I went to see the project with some colleagues, and we were so uplifted that we knew we had to bring something similar to Scotland."

(Jose Abreu) was once an economist working in Venezuela's oil business. But he had also studied music, and in his mid-30s he decided it was time for a change of life.

"When I was studying music, I noticed Venezuela was so backward compared with other countries. Mexico and Argentina, for example, had excellent choirs and conservatoires. It gave me great pain to see my fellow students unable to earn a living in their own country - they had to go to the Caribbean to work in dance bands.

"The reason was the low level of the whole musical culture. Ordinary people could not be involved, they could not afford teachers or instruments. I realised that without a programme to bring our youth into music, we would never succeed."

So it was national pride as much as social conscience that led Abreu to set up Venezuela's first youth orchestra. He cajoled 10 players from the country's only orchestra to act as coaches, and begged and borrowed rehearsal spaces and instruments.

We had the same 'light bulb' experience last year. Birmingham's children deserve the opportunities that a program like this can give them. We see all sorts of barriers coming down at Cave9 as people unite through music. I am not a musician. I am not a teacher. I am a mother, a citizen, who sees a way to make Birmingham better. What ever it takes, rest assured, I will do it. If I can do it, so can you. Get involved--with this, with your favorite cause. But don't just think about it, take action.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sound Familiar?

From Gabrielle Fimbres in the Tuscon Citizen:
Matthew was handed a violin and taught to play, through OMA, what was then a new program at Corbett Elementary.
At home, Matthew tossed the violin in the corner. He later heard the crunch of wood as he stepped on it, splintering the instrument.
"I was so scared," he recalled. "I knew my parents couldn't pay for it."
Matthew took the smashed instrument to his orchestra teacher, Richard Leek, now his foster dad.
"I just sat there and looked at it and thought what should I do?" Leek said. "Probably any other teacher would have kicked him out of the program. I went to a closet and got another instrument."
Leek said he saw a "spark" in Matthew.
"There was a twinkle in those eyes that led me to believe he had talent for this," said Leek

10 reasons unreasonable people succeed

It's amazing how inspiration arrives whenever I need it most. This is from The Nonprofit Times. I'm afraid it describes us to a 'T':

George Bernard Shaw wrote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

It was this view that caused John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan to title their book The Power of Unreasonable People, in which they list in it the 10 characteristics of successful social enterprise that they have found among social entrepreneurs.

Those people:

  • Try to shrug off the constraints of ideology or discipline.
  • Identify and apply practical solutions to problems, combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity.
  • Innovate by finding a new product, service or approach to a social problem.
  • Focus first and foremost on social value creation and, in that spirit, are willing to share their innovations and insights for others to replicate.
  • Jump in before ensuring that they are fully resourced.
  • Have an unwavering belief in everyone’s innate capacity, often regardless of education, to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development.
  • Show a dogged determination that pushes them to take risks that others wouldn’t dare.
  • Balance their passion for change with the zeal to measure and monitor impact.
  • Have a great deal to teach change-makers in other sectors.
  • Display a healthy impatience.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Music and Health: La Mamma Spa

Scrollworks is not the only good idea getting started in Birmingham.
The Hamby family is taking lessons from us at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and Cave9.
Shira--author/illustrator--is taking guitar; Shaina, guitar and piano; Thurston, drums, piano, guitar, violin, and sax; and mom Debbie, piano and voice.
Debbie is a nurse practitioner beginning her own women's health service called 'La Mamma Spa'.
Please click here for a flyer with an extensive list of the services Debbie offers.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Music Kitchen--a GREAT idea!

Found Music Kitchen, a marvelous idea, on the Jazzbows website recommended by Jaime Austria and El Sistema-NYC.
Music Kitchen Mission Statement

To bring top emerging and established professional musicians together in order to share the inspirational, therapeutic, and uplifting power of music with New York City’s disenfranchised homeless shelter residents.
Please go check it out!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How do we get there?

Wouldn't this attitude be nice? (Emphasis mine.)
THREE Lothian MSPs have joined forces in an effort to stop Britain's national youth orchestra organisation relocating from Edinburgh to London.

The National Association of Youth Orchestras (NAYO) is one of the most important cultural bodies in Edinburgh, having a base in the city for nearly 30 years. But the body is considering moving to London, which insiders believe would attract more government funding.

Nationalist MSP Ian McKee has lodged a parliamentary motion, recognising "the association's vital contribution to the cultural life both of the capital city and all of Scotland". It has been supported by Lib Dem MSP Mike Pringle and Green MSP Robin Harper, among others.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Play vs the 'long, hard slog'

From Rosa Brooks at the LA Times:
For younger readers, I'll explain this archaic concept. It worked like this: The child or children in the house -- as long as they were over age 4 or so -- went to the door, opened it, and ... went outside. They braved the neighborhood pedophile just waiting to pounce, the rusty nails just waiting to be stepped on, the trees just waiting to be fallen out of, and they "played."

"Play," incidentally, is a mysterious activity children engage in when not compelled to spend every hour under adult supervision, taking soccer or piano lessons or practicing vocabulary words with computerized flashcards..., for most middle-class American children, "going out to play" has gone the way of the dodo, the typewriter and the eight-track tape. From 1981 to 1997, for instance, University of Michigan time-use studies show that 3- to 5-year-olds lost an average of 501 minutes of unstructured playtime each week; 6- to 8-year-olds lost an average of 228 minutes. (On the other hand, kids now do more organized activities and have more homework, the lucky devils!) And forget about walking to school alone. Today's kids don't walk much at all (adding to the childhood obesity problem).

Increasingly, American children are in a lose-lose situation. They're forced, prematurely, to do all the un-fun kinds of things adults do (Be over-scheduled! Have no downtime! Study! Work!). But they don't get any of the privileges of adult life: autonomy, the ability to make their own choices, use their own judgment, maybe even get interestingly lost now and then.

Somehow, we've managed to turn childhood into a long, hard slog.

She's so right. I remember my mom making me go outside when we lived on the North Platte River in Wyoming. Sometimes we would follow the river upstream for hours, climbing in the cottonwoods on the bank, playing in the mud, studying the plants and animals. We were not allowed to go in the river or drink from it, so we didn't. (Somehow my mom knew both times we did either--although finding a dead cow in the water just upstream from the drink was a very powerful deterrent.) I did not give my children that much freedom until it was too late for them to know how to take advantage of it. I see many children who would have no time in their dayplanner for such adventures. I wonder what the cultural consequences will be.

Scrollworks is Everywhere!

Astronomy Picture of the Day shows its support for Scrollworks! ; )
We do seem to be growing logarithmically!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

From Jaime Austria at El Sistema-NYC

Imagine programs like this, and so many others, integrating sustained and long-term elements of El Sistema...


Violin program is music to kids' ears
By Amy Larson
May 02, 2008

Every Wednesday Bronx Public School 56's auditorium is silent except for the sound of violins as professional musician Kokoe Tanaka instructs a violin orchestra of fourth-graders. The violinist's presence is the work of principal Priscilla Sheeran, who thinks that music is critical to education.

Music fell silent 30 years ago when the city's Department of Education slashed art from the core curriculum. Now principals and politicians who believe in the power of art to inspire and educate are shouldering the task of bringing the arts back to public schools.

Tanaka had no trouble controlling a room full of 10-year-olds who had just undergone the stress of yet another standardized test: this one in science.

Ten-year-old Brandon Cotto at P.S. 56 in Norwood explained that he did not dread school that day even with a standardized test on the schedule; as soon as testing was done he'd be in his school's auditorium playing the violin until lunchtime.

"I knew we were having a science test, but I was looking forward to having a good day in violin class," said Brandon with a timid smile.

Other kids in the Bronx were not as lucky. "Music class" was missing from many schools' course lists. In fact, Bronx public schools have the least number of art classes out of any borough in New York City, according to City Councilmember James Vacca.

And the rest of the city is not an ideal yard stick, as 96 percent of public elementary schools failed to meet the state's art requirements, according to a survey conducted by the city's Department of Education The state of the arts in public schools was revealed earlier this year when the department conducted a survey of public schools citywide. The results disturbed educators and City Council members on the education committee.

Vacca said a lack of arts is affecting Bronx students' education.

The funding just wasn't there to pay for a full-time music teacher, said Priscilla Sheeran, principal of P.S. 56. With the principal still pushing for what music they could afford, the school introduced music by having the students use their voices. A few years later, still unable to afford instruments, the school bought recorders, which are plastic and inexpensive.

"We had that going for seven years," said Sheeran, who began her teaching career in 1991 at P.S. 56 before climbing the ranks.

"We are in the business of educating children. That doesn't mean always putting a book in front of them." Every child has gifts, she said. "Unless we develop the whole child you never know if you've missed something."

The Department of Education's art administrators said each school's principal is responsible for implementing art programs. Schools received an average of $312 per student for art enrichment for the 2006-2007 school year.

But art classes never developed in many schools. Principals said they could not direct this funding toward the arts because first they had to pay for math and English classes, which was hard enough.

But in October 2007, City Councilmember Oliver Koppell came to the school's aid by funding a resident artist to teach violin to every third- and fourth-grader in the school.

Tanaka, who is a doctoral candidate in musical arts and works for the Bronx Arts Ensemble, first tucked a violin under her chin when she was 4 years old. Back then bands were common for schools to have. "My mom told me I always was wanting to play the violin," said Tanaka, who hopes to give her young students the same chance she had to discover an underlying talent.

"I have some students who are not doing so well in school or having behavioral problems," Tanaka said. "(But) when they come to violin they really want to learn and [that] motivates them."

When Koppell went to visit the class, he was overjoyed by what he saw: students paying attention and learning through an alternative way.

However, Koppell added, "Most kids are being denied the opportunity."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What it's all about

Emily-violin, Julia-cello, Kelsie-clarinet, Layla-viola at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia.

Treasures found at Cave9

Monday, May 5, 2008

Three things we crave

There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life -- happiness, freedom, and peace of mind -- are always attained by giving them to someone else. -General Peyton C. March (1864-1955)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

An invitation

The facts from Philanthropy News Digest:
U.S. schools were being eroded by a "rising tide of mediocrity," noting systemic problems in academic standards and expectations, the time allocated for learning, and the quality of teachers.

from the Birmingham News:
Birmingham City Schools' state funding could decrease by at least $10.8 million next fiscal year, based on state projections school officials presented tonight.

Arthur Watts, the school system's chief financial officer, said the reduction includes a loss of 87 teaching units funded by the state. Units are the state money provided for teacher, principal, assistant principal, counselor and librarian positions.

A solution?

From Medical News Today:
"Increasing music experience appears to benefit all children -- whether musically exceptional or not -- in a wide range of learning activities," says Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory and senior author of the study.

I have long believed this to be true. Now I see the benefits every day and it goes far beyond improved academics. I invite you to come see it--feel it--for yourself. It's changing the lives of our students, of our teachers. Let it change your life, too! I am completely serious. Email me.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gate City's Children Deserve It!!

Yesterday I spoke with Jaime Austria of El Sistema-NYC for two hours. What a wonderful, knowledgeable person he is. He really helped boost my spirits when I needed it most.

Jaime told me an inspiring story about a man who lived in his car and worked two jobs in order to build a school for a village overseas that had nursed him when he was ill.

Then I received this email from Lauren:
Jon and I went out to Pastor Lee's church today. We left with a very good feeling about the place, actually. I've attached pictures of the various rooms that could be used for teaching. While it is in a pretty rough side of town, it is far enough removed to where we felt very safe at the location.

I do NOT think that this location will be acceptable as far as a place for homeschool kids to come for private lessons. The kids would be safe, but I don't believe that parents of homeschoolers would be comfortable bringing them into this area. However, this is the PERFECT place for Scrollworks to establish another nucleus, as there are many children within walking distance that are hungry for the music education that we could provide. It fits in with our mission statement EXACTLY. I simply do not see it as a place that is going to work for paid private lessons - it will have much more of a cave9 feel, giving the kids in the community a positive outlet and getting them off of the streets and into something constructive.

As you can see from the pictures, there are a number of rooms that could be used for teaching. the sanctuary is of a decent size; there is an organ, keyboard, piano, and drum kit that they are willing to let us use for teaching, and there are several rooms and offices that could be used to teach various instruments or private lessons.

The Lees are WONDERFUL people and are incredibly supportive of what we are doing. They are hoping to get their talented children (a flute player, a tuba player, and a clarinet player) into the MYO ASAP. They truly believe that their facility could be used to help us make a positive difference in the community, and I definitely believe that it would be an appropriate place for us. With Mrs. Lee's connections at the surrounding schools, we would be able to have lectures or talk to the children at the schools to let them know if we decide to have a program there, and Mrs. Lee could also do even further publicity.

So the question is, do we have the staffing/funding to begin at another location that doesn't show much promise of being a place that will draw paying students? This is going to be a place that is successful for those who can pay little or nothing for music lessons. The Lees are optimistic - I told them I would discuss with you two and we would be back in touch with them shortly. They are eager to see if they can start spreading the word about a summer program.

Pastor Lee's church is in Gate City near Woodlawn. (Look at the satellite view.)
We have returning college students very eager to teach for us: Molly, Shane, Taylor and more.
But we do not have the funding to do a 'free' location. While these young people don't ask for much, they need some recompense for their time and efforts. And we'd need to provide instruments, etc.

I haven't discussed this with Nick yet, but I so want Scrollworks at Pastor Lee's church this summer. My instincts tell me this is a place we need to be.

I have given everything I can give to Scrollworks--every penny I've got. I'm working way more than 40 hours a week on this program. I'm taking no salary right now. But when I think of what we could do in Gate City!!! I am going to get a night job to make it happen. And dear Philip said he'd take on two jobs to help.

Why do I want to do this? Watch the 'Tocar y Luchar' video. Then come visit the children of Hill Elementary. Look in their eyes. Talk to Matthew who has figured out how to make music with every instrument he touches. Talk to Carmen about the cello he took home. Look in the eyes of Carlos and Donovan who want to learn drums so very badly, but feel peer pressure to express themselves with their fists. Tell me they don't deserve a program like El Sistema, which the children of Venezuela's slums are using to change their lives.

The drive to accomplish this nearly makes my heart explode. What are you doing to make your heart explode?