Sunday, November 30, 2008

Are you a Pusher or a Placeholder?

Placeholder. We've all had that kind of job. There's lots of work, perhaps critical work, but it doesn't matter that it's YOU who is doing it. Maybe it matters that you show up every day or work overtime or help plan the office Christmas party, but it doesn't matter if you are doing the work--or the person who submitted the next resume in the pile. Perhaps when you took the job you thought you could add some special touch, make some changes. But that didn't happen and now you're just that mythical cog in the machine.

Years ago I was rushing to the kids' school with a car full of tie-dye supplies. It had taken longer than I expected to prepare t-shirts and mix dyes for the class, so I was running late. As I flew down the straight-away of Broken Bow Circle, my way was blocked by a pick-up truck across the road. Two ladies were trying to push it into their driveway, but couldn't get it over the bump of the gutter and up the slight incline--they repeatedly lost momentum and the truck rolled back into the street. I could have gone around on one of the passes when they had it almost up the hill, but I turned off my car and helped them push it out of the street for good. Even with three of us, it took several tries.

There are no placeholders here. Everyone involved with MYO and Scrollworks is a pusher, from Craig, the chairman of the board, to Dion, who pretends to take drum lessons just so he can have brownies. We are pushing the world to a better place. If you think that's too idealistic, too ridiculous to associate with music lessons and youth orchestra, you haven't seen what is happening here.

Our organization is small, so every action, every dollar, has an impact. Entering student registrations in a database is cog-like, but at this point you can design the database or change the registration forms. A single dollar buys a clarinet reed or a cake of rosin for one of the strings. Fifty dollars pays for a month worth of lessons for one of our students.

Feel like a placeholder? Become a pusher with MYO. You can volunteer--just come to Cave9 on Friday or Saturday afternoon. You can push right here, right now by donating.

Push the world to a better place! Donate to MYO--a 501(c)3 organization!

Friday, November 28, 2008


(This is a blurry photo of our appearance on Ms. Tripp's show 'The Almighty Eyes', Brighthouse Channel 4 on November 15.)

We've been in a huge transition over the last month. It's proving to be a very good thing. There's an undercurrent of excitement and the new watchword, 'Excellence', is already producing results.

I'm getting good at explaining what I don't want to do, while realizing that what I am trying to do is impossible for one person. So many have come to my rescue and I greatly appreciate it. The board, the staff, the parents and the students: Craig, Rick, John, Edwin, Dwight, Harry, Jimmy, Janet, Jenny, Cindy, Leslie, Carrie, Claudia, Brian, and many more. Thank you!

In the process, I've discovered that so many didn't know the big picture. So I wrote out my vision:
Cave9 was an accident. I think all real innovation is. Our original intent was to duplicate El Sistema, with Hill as a model school. Cave9 was just going to be another node or 'nucleo' as they are called in El Sistema. But Cave9 has turned out to be something so important that I can't find words for what happens there. I wish I could convey it. The teachers see it. The students and their parents see it. The ensembles have to be a product of this. We need 9000 ensembles--ensembles for adults, ensembles for  piano and guitar, whatever will bring people to sit side by side, make music and communicate. But it all begins with that chaos at Cave9, the core tenet of which is free music lessons for anyone who walks in the door. It is unique and Birmingham needs to exploit that in all sorts of ways.

I want to take Cave9, figure out how to make it possible for anyone to duplicate with their own resources, distill it into a 5 page brochure and distribute it to everyone. I want someone in Hale County to do it at their church, someone in Mississippi to take it up at their school. Molly's already doing it every Thursday at a Unitarian church in Louisville. Maybe they can do it under our umbrella, maybe they have to do it independently.The Julia set is my mental picture of how that would look. I want the students to feed into ensembles that start local and become regional. (That IS like El Sistema.) I want those ensembles to represent a true cross-section of the underlying community.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Scrollworks Louisville update

Facebook message from Molly:
Scrollworks Louisville is going great BTW. Last week I taught a 5 yr old girl piano, and she wrote out a song using finger numbers. It was pretty cool and actually sounded good, so I'm looking forward to this upcoming week. Hopefully I will remember my camera.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm stunned. To find that others believe so strongly in an idea that it is no longer is mine alone, that it is being championed by a much larger community, is surprising, gratifying--and a tremendous relief. But most importantly, this means that the benefits to the children and the community are more likely to be realized. I have no special skills that can make this happen. All I have is passion. That's not enough.

Here is just a sampling of the folks who are championing MYO and Scrollworks. There are more. Many more. I am grateful to every single one. And every day I hear of someone helping us that I've never met, someone who sees the power of the idea and wants to be involved.

Rosa Hill
Rosa's grandchildren, Brian and AnLeia, are members of MYO. Brian teaches violin every weekend at Cave9. AnLeia is in the jazz ensemble and comes to Cave9 for lessons on multiple instruments.

Rosa is one of the most determined people I have ever met. She has decided that this program can help with a lot of problems she sees in her community. She doesn't have much money, but she is a powerful advocate. Rosa has visited many local agencies to pass out our literature. And then she goes back to push MYO & Scrollworks again, to make sure they are thinking about us, to find out how we can help each other.

Yesterday she brought fistfuls of tickets that she'd gotten from one agency for a performance on Sunday. She figures if she can get enough of our people there, that will make the agency take note. She went around Cave9 persuading parents to take their children to the concert.

Rosa passed out brochures at the Magic City Classic Parade and at dozens of churches. Every Saturday she takes every bit of promotional literature I have--and that's not as much as she wants.
At the community meeting, she said she was going to sit in Mayor Langford's office and stare at him until he took notice of Scrollworks. I have no doubt she will do it--and get results.

Obviously, Rosa's spirit permeates her family. Yesterday she brought along Tommie, her nephew. Tommie plays drums and offered to teach. He charged up the stairs two at a time and had the drum students learning and laughing in seconds. Rick--stretching his talents to teach percussion at my request--was relieved and impressed, shaking Tommie's hand in appreciation as we were packing up. Tommie was glowing, announcing he would be back and describing his teaching plan.

Kim Waites
Near as I can tell, Kim descended from on high to help Scrollworks. Her Music Snob Trivia Game at Bottletree has already raised hundreds of dollars for our program. She tirelessly promotes Scrollworks as an integral part of her project.
Kim dropped by Cave9 yesterday to deliver a $100 check that she collected on our behalf. She was bursting with excitement as she prepared to raffle off VIP tickets to City Stages. Her goal is to raise $1000 for Scrollworks. Wow.
I also found out through a parent that a couple of music teachers from Art's who participate in Music Snob Trivia were inspired to collect used instrument method books for us. These are very needed.

There are so many more: Craig Hultgren, Mary Lee Rice, Mary Whitley, Cindy & Ralph Nelson, the Cleverdon family, Jenny Brengelman, Anne Donaldson, Dwight Houston, Kevin Leon...all of you! Thank you, thank you so much!