Sunday, October 26, 2008

Diamond Shines Thanks to the ASO

Thanks to Meagan McCollum, Community Engagement Director of the Alabama Symphony, Diamond, Christan and Christan's mom, Teresa, and I were able to attend the family concert today. Judging from the smiles, everyone had a great time. I was delighted to find Diamond a true pleasure to escort. From Cave9, I knew that the Loftins would be good company on this beautiful fall day.

Diamond was suitably impressed by Glinda's flute playing and got a hug from the 'good witch' when we explained that Diamond is studying the flute, too. Diamond loved learning the Thriller dance and Christan joined her until the silly fun of the choreography was overwhelmed by her 13-year-old angst for being noticed.

The spooky selections on the symphony's program were all new to Daimond--except for the Funeral Dance of the Marionette, which she'd heard in a commercial. She didn't squirm at all--only danced in her seat in pure enjoyment of the music. And she asked lots of questions.

Christan studies piano at Cave9. Her mother is learning guitar. Christan has a grace about her, and a wry sense of humor. She tends to be shy, but when I push her, she will teach piano to young beginners with such gentleness and care. When I asked how she liked the concert, she said it was OK and gave that twisty smile of hers. From Christan, I'm sure that's a rousing endorsement.

Teresa really seemed to relish the day. She learned the Thriller dance. She even sat and listened to the storyteller when Christan and Diamond wanted to explore. She said she'd been by the Alys Stephens Center, but had never been inside.

While we were waiting for the concert to begin, Diamond spent a few moments carefully surveying the audience. She leaned over and whispered, "There aren't very many black people here." I grinned at her. "Yep. You're right. Let's you and I work on changing that!" She grinned back and nodded.

Thanks, Meagan! Thanks also to the ASO!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

You can call me Arthur

Today at Cave9, our unusual violin student was back. This man has some difficulty with speech, not so much a stutter as forming the words without any sound happening. He has lived through some rough times, but his eyes are gentle--perhaps even a bit apprehensive of rejection. I asked Claudia if she was comfortable working with him. She said, "Sure!", but I signalled to Jimmy to keep an eye out, which he already was.

Claudia worked with him for a long time, maybe an hour, and I could hear his progress through the pages of the violin method book. As he was leaving, he waved at the donation jar and said something that I understood to mean he didn't have anything to donate. I told him not to worry about it. He pushed the door open, then very deliberately turned back and said, "Thank you!" He hitched up his sagging and ragged pants and headed down 23rd Street.

Claudia came up to me excitedly because he had left her two of his poems. This is a person who I've not asked to fill out a registration form for fear of scaring him away, so I asked if she'd gotten his name: "Tovarias, but you can call me Arthur." She said Arthur stopped often to pray during his lesson, once for more than a minute.

Arthur left me with a still center. We gave him music and he gave us poetry. And he gave me peace, knowing that I am participating in something profoundly beautiful and spiritual and human, knowing that I am sharing that with Claudia and Elliot and Rick and Jimmy and Mary Lee.

Mary Lee keeps warning us that her piano skills are limited. But like each of our teachers, she has something beyond music to give that no one else has. Some of the youngest and most difficult children from the housing project bounce in the door and scan the room for her. Not the brownies, not their friends. They want to sit at the keyboard and learn from Mary Lee Rice.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mother 2 Daughters

Here's today's story:
Mike flagged me down as I came out the door of Cave9. He said someone in a car had a question. The lady in the car said she would just park and come in.
Juanica came in and asked me to tell her what was going on. I told her we were offering free music lessons for ages 7 to adult. She almost fainted with delight. Her daughter, Charnell, immediately ran upstairs to do drum lessons. Juanica called her college freshman daughter in from the car just to check it out.

This woman told me she gets her hair done at the salon across the street. Many times she's heard the pounding beat of the music at Cave9, but today she saw a half dozen children climb out of a van carrying instruments and go inside. So she was curious what could be going on that would draw the interest of these children.

Juanica and her older daughter have a singing group called Mother 2 Daughters. She writes original music for them. They sang for me and it was beautiful. But she doesn't know how to play piano or notate the music. Scrollworks might be the answer.
Charnell took lessons on drums, violin and piano. Jaunica waited for piano lessons, but Mary Lee had her hands full, so she took a guitar lesson from Jimmy.

Now we're contemplating doing a performance with Mother 2 Daughters and the orchestras.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Little Things

I took this photo with my cell phone. This gentleman came to the door and asked for a violin lesson. He was here one busy Saturday weeks ago and waited a long time for a lesson. His behavior at that time was odd. Today he seemed better. Nick gave him a lesson and he sat for a long time practicing. He waved me over and offered an apology. He said he had to leave because he had a 5 page paper to write(!), but he'd be back next Saturday. Nick said this man was thrilled to play Mary Had a Little Lamb!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Why are you in youth orchestra?

Been thinking a lot about my last two posts. I want all of our youth orchestra members to think about why they are in the orchestra. The number one reason should be to play in an ensemble, to learn how to join with others to create harmony on many levels.

If you are in the youth orchestra because you want to be a professional musician or you want 'section principal' on your resume, I've got news for you. You'd better follow the Leittens to Atlanta because Birmingham youth orchestras have no cache. No one was more driven than my Molly to build an impressive resume. Yet I had to force her to finish her last year in the Alabama Youth Symphony. By her senior year, she'd realized that being AYS principal cellist for two years meant little to her future. Aspen Music Festival and 'From the Top' meant everything. When Molly applied to Tanglewood, the person she talked to kindly explained that they don't generally consider students from Alabama!

Since we began Scrollworks and reached out into the larger community, our youth ensembles have become something more than an opportunity to work through the classical repertoire. We now have students who've never taken a private lesson sharing a stand with those who've spent thousands on lessons. We have students with instruments that cost as much as a car sitting next to students who borrow Scrollworks instruments when we're not using them for teaching. (The effort these students and their parents make to get the instruments and return them says an awful lot about the importance of music in their lives.)

Everyone in the youth orchestras has something to learn and something to give. We can share musical knowledge and skills. We can share life experience and attitude. We can build a community that ripples out beyond the rehearsal hall.

MYO, MCYO, and Scrollworks haven't even gotten to the 'terrible twos'. We're bound to stumble and stutter. If you feel that your musical and personal development is going to be stunted by participating in the sometimes awkward growth and development of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestras, we hope that you will search out an organization that will serve you better. We'll miss you, but we'll keep going and growing.

Scrollworks has gained worldwide attention. We're listed on the El Sistema and El Sistema-NYC websites. We get inquiries from all over the US as well as a couple from England and Italy. Maybe participation in our program is a resume item that'll make those outside Alabama take notice.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Going too far too fast? The story of my (recent) life

One of our most passionate supporters told me that he's holding back on recruiting for fear of the ensembles becoming all African-American. Wouldn't that be ironic? And, I suspect, a unique situation for an independent youth orchestra.

I told him that as far as I was concerned, what is important is giving ALL children an opportunity to play. Had there been a choice when Molly was in youth orchestra, I would have put her in MYO because of its diversity. I'm sure many feel the same way.

I say, bring them on. Bring us every single young musician who wants to play, regardless of color, regardless of instrument, even regardless of skill level. If we need to rewrite the music, we will. If we have to create more ensembles at different skill levels or playing other music genres, we will.

A rainbow of faces in our ensembles is my dream. But it means nothing if it is forced or arranged. Let the musical chips fall where they may and we'll hope that with time, the dream will come true.

We have our community meeting this Saturday at Cave9 from 6 pm to 8 pm. (If you haven't gotten an invitation, consider yourself invited now. It's open to all.) I am so pleased with the broad range of people attending. I hope we can have a frank discussion about some of these issues because I'd love to know--need to know--what others think.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Let them go. We'll make more.

The hardest part of this endeavor is the sharp roller coaster of emotions. Shooting up to the crest, followed by a swift drop down twists the insides with something not quite motion sickness multiple times a day.

I started out the day by discovering Armani's video of the Barrage rehearsal. That was a delightful lift up.

I was preparing the video camera for his mom to use to record Armani's cello performance at his school's PTO meeting tonight. Scrollworks made this performance possible! (Crest approaching.)

Later today we learned that many of our orchestra members are being recruited by the Alabama Youth Symphony with promises of a more complete orchestra, more challenging music and, I'm sure, other enticements. Sadly, we are losing some to this siren song. MYO is all about the students, so we don't mind the switch if AYS will better serve their needs. In fact, we encourage it. What bothers me is that I sincerely thought these young people and their families believed in our mission and were willing to work with us toward achieving the organization's goal of bringing our community together through music. (Swoop into the trough.)

The roller coaster started back up when I began editing today's photos from the wind classes at Hill Elementary. What a joy to watch these children grow, mature, and learn to play an instrument. Their smiles and the twinkle in their eyes is what really matters. LaTavia got to take a flute-o-phone home. Lawrence dropped his saxophone 3 times. I don't think he'll get to take an instrument home for a LONG time, but maybe he'll surprise me. Others have!

And we'll keep giving Tequila chances, too. She is so totally NOT into learning the clarinet, but persists due to peer pressure. Imagine that: peer pressure to learn an instrument. I'll put up with a few clarinets twirled like a baton if I can generate a bit more of that!

Janiya is beautiful, and knows full well how to use her pretty pout to get her way. I've doubted whether we could get past the pout to accomplish any learning. Today Janiya played half a scale on the trumpet--the most notes I've heard from any wind instrument so far. Dwight praised her and I gave her a thumbs up. She visibly held herself straighter and had that same secret smile that Donovan had a few weeks ago, not being used to attention for this reason.

Let them go to AYS. We'll make more. There are enough talented children in our city to populate a dozen youth orchestras. Scrollworks' destiny is to find them, teach them and reach them.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

'We can all do small things with great love'

From Stacey Monk at Epic Change:
I once read a quote by Mother Teresa who wrote:

“What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”

Yesterday MYO board member Mary Lee Rice taught piano at Cave9. Her first student was Drelion. I've written about him before. He's often banned for antics like spitting coffee on people walking in the door and hitting my car with a chain. He always apologizes and is readmitted. Mary Lee worked with him for a good 30 minutes and then later for another lesson. It's rare to get Dreli to sit still for even 5 minutes let alone focus on a lesson, although when he does he shows aptitude.

As we loaded out, all of us were stunned by the sight of tiny Drelion hauling load after load of instruments to the curb. He even tried to pack up the food and my 'office' crate. Jimmy insisted that Mary Lee must come back to teach because there are others who need her magic touch!

Janet Lewis brought Jonathan right at 3 for his violin lesson. Since she can teach beginning violin, I was so glad to see her. I was headed to the office for a second load of instruments and didn't want to leave Jimmy alone with the Friday crowd. Janet's mother, Jenny, has been helping us with PR for Barrage this week. We are so grateful for this family's very active support.

When I arrived with the drum set, cellos, and printer, I found Janet getting a violin lesson from Anne Donaldson. Anne is a second violinist with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra--and the first ASO member to come to our lessons at Cave9. She promised to come teach when she can.