Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stacey Monk on Reassurance

Reposting my friend Stacey's rumination on the Epic Change blog. She and I are traveling parallel paths and her thoughts today really did reassure me!

There are moments of knowing. Tonight I had one - that tingly sensation when it’s as if the universe is shouting wordlessly to tell you some massive secret.

I cry in these moments. I am now.

I don’t know how to describe this feeling, but it is bliss.

I am not sure exactly what the universe is trying to say. I take that back. I do know. Precisely.

It’s saying it knows I’m weary.
It’s saying it knows this is hard.
It’s saying, knowing it doesn’t have to, “don’t give up.” (I couldn’t if I tried.)
It’s promising help is on the horizon.

It’s saying, “what more do you want, little girl?
What more do you need?
What more do you hope for?
It’s yours.”

It’s saying “You’re going the right way.
Don’t turn back.
Keep going.
I know you’re scared.
I know some may doubt you.
I know you doubt yourself more than they possibly could.”

The universe is whispering, in it’s most comforting, reassuring possible voice:

“Good will come. I promise.
Stop pushing so hard. Let it be.”

And tonight I believe. Profoundly.

Because the universe has proven time and time again - every time I look into the face of another human and see love or yearning or light or trust or faith or hope - that good is the only possible outcome when a human heart loves so deeply, hopes so audaciously and works so hard.

I recently found out my friend Jen Lemen won $50,000 in the Name Your Dream Assignment contest to cross the globe and photograph hope.

She’s proof that good wins.

In case you had any doubt.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mrs. Bullock, Mrs. Easter and Your Two Cents: How to Fund a Movement

This is Cleo Bullock. She called me over yesterday to talk about her fundraising ideas. She says she could make Scrollworks 'bloom' with children, but she's afraid she'd overwhelm our resources. So she wants to help us raise money to do more. Mrs. Bullock has already donated over $700 she collected standing outside her Family Dollar.

As she began to get fired up, Mary Easter joined in the brainstorming. Mary studies piano. Her grandchildren come every Friday and Saturday for violin, drums and piano lessons. Her whole family believes that music education is critical.

Both ladies really want to do a raffle. They suggested that people would readily buy raffle tickets for a dollar, even if the prizes were inexpensive. Mary said she would donate some music cassettes she has that are still in the wrapper.

Cleo turned to the keyboard and lovingly ran her fingers up and down the keys. She wondered if she could convince people to sponsor an instrument:
$.25 for each key on a piano -- $22
$1 for each string on a violin or cello -- $4
$1 for each string on a guitar -- $6

She also wondered if people would match her donations with a pledge of two cents per $1. That'd be $14 so far.

Mrs. Bullock and Mrs. Easter say that Scrollworks is a blessing. Their fund raising goals are modest. And yet Cleo has managed to raise an amazing total in a short time. My friend, Leslie, has told me about ladies like this who were the soul of the civil rights movement in Birmingham. I am so proud that they see the value of what Scrollworks is offering.

Those of us involved in this program know it is a movement with the potential for profound social transformation.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Too many music lessons?

This is Amia and Lourdes at Hill this afternoon. Amia is a recent immigrant from South Africa. She was so excited to fill out her paperwork when we hired her because she'd just gotten her green card. Lourdes has a learning disability, but not when it comes to music. He takes violin, trumpet, guitar and drums. Everyone agrees he should be focusing on one or maybe two instruments. But I've never seen a teacher turn him away. I've never seen our teachers turn away any child passionate about learning an instrument.

Think about it. A warm spring Friday afternoon. The parents tell us they don't make the students come, the students are begging to come. Almost all of them don't take one lesson, they take two or more. Some come back again on Saturday. To be able to indulge themselves, have as much as they want of something, has to feel so good to them. That isn't something that students at Hill School get very often. Where would you rather these children be today? tomorrow?

This is a new Scrollworks student. She came from Hemphill Elementary because her cousin told her about the free lessons. Tionna took drums, a bit of piano and a bit of violin. Jason Swanson, a volunteer on Fridays, taught her clarinet and was very impressed with how fast she picked it up. Then she tried trumpet. Rick said her first sound out of the trumpet was marvelous--something a couple of his more challenging trumpet students hadn't been able to achieve in a month of lessons. After awhile, Tionna offered to show Rick something on the clarinet. So Tionna, clarinetist for barely an hour, sat down to seriously explain the instrument to Rick, who has a PhD in compostion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why I do this

These kids don't have to be here. They WANT to be here. They don't have to learn music. They WANT to learn music. Some of them goof around. Some of them struggle to focus. Some soak it up like a sponge and want MORE. Jimmy and Craig demand a lot and don't make it easy. The kids keep coming back. Just when Jimmy thinks he's alienated them all, they run back in to say good-bye to him after the last bell.

All of these children are beautiful.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sticks & Stones: We WILL teach free lessons every weekend

In the fall of 2007, Aaron Hamilton came to one of our first planning meetings for Scrollworks, our attempt to bring El Sistema to the children of Birmingham, Alabama. Aaron was there to offer us time and space to teach at Cave9, his non-profit all-ages rock club on Southside. He was one of the first in the community to support Scrollworks. He and his colleagues threw a benefit for Scrollworks on February 15, 2008. We began teaching there the next afternoon.

The denizens of Cave9 are a lesson in not judging by appearances. Tattooed and pierced and clad in black, these are some of the kindest people I have ever met. I have seen Aaron take great care with the children from the Southtown housing project. Indeed, he wanted us at Cave9 for their sake.

When Cave9 moved to the space above GreenCup Books at the end of 2008, they graciously asked us to go with them. We were glad to follow. We had few other options. We were soon shocked to discover that Cave9 was not going to stay at GreenCup. The kind folks of Cave9 found it impossible to get along with their new landlord. I do not know the details, only that there was much bad feeling. Mike, the manager of GreenCup, told us we were welcome to stay there, even offering to give us storage space for instruments.

Despite this offer, we planned to move with Cave9 to their new location. Unfortunately, this location did not work and Cave9, out of options, dissolved. This is a profound loss for the community, even though many won't realize it, because this was a safe place for many disaffected young people to go. There was no alcohol and the single rule 'Don't be a jerk' was enforced.

So Scrollworks stayed at GreenCup. We were looking for other space. The stairs were a problem for me and many parents and grandparents. We had many complaints that GreenCup was not family friendly. Not long ago we had hauled the instruments up the stairs and had students streaming in when Mike informed us that we could not teach that day because of a burlesque show that needed to rehearse.

I was extremely upset that we had no notice of this. Mike himself said it had been on the calendar for months. The show, yes, but not the rehearsal time. Seemed to me that even enough notice to prevent setting up would have been common courtesy. We were able to move the lessons downstairs and outside, but the parents were not happy about drum lessons happening in front of a painting of a nude female, no matter how tasteful.

This past weekend we had a similar experience. Because of plumbing problems, Mike canceled our lessons just as our teachers and students arrived. While this is understandable, even an hour's notice would have allowed us to make other arrangements. We so appreciate the folks at the BareHands Gallery for letting us teach there. However, we closed early because I felt awkward making the art patrons dodge music stands and talk over drum lessons.

We tried to forestall such an eventuality this weekend, but this did not go well and Mike informed us in an expletive-laced email that we are 'gone' from GreenCup.

It is critical to our success that we provide consistent access to music lessons. Many of our students do not have ready access to the internet or cell phones. They move often. We cannot tell them about schedule changes. We have people that drive from Alabaster, Wilsonville, Bessemer, Pinson. They will be unlikely to come back more than once or twice if they make the effort to come and find Scrollworks canceled. We have been working hard to build the quality of our instruction and the number of participants. The disruption caused by the random shut down and now eviction by GreenCup has done damage to our efforts and our organization.

You all know how hard so many have worked to build MYOCA and Scrollworks. You all know the tremendous upheavals we have already weathered. I am not about to let a careless and selfish individual drive us out of business as he did Cave9.

This weekend we have found space at Hill Elementary, thanks to principal Taylor Greene, a member of our board. I don't know where we will be next weekend, but know that WE WILL CONTINUE TO TEACH. If you can't find us, just call 908-8843 and we'll tell you where we are. And please pass the word to any who might be interested in our program and want to see how free music lessons can transform our community.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

You win

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." ~Gandhi

Provenance and Preconceptions

We had visitors to Scrollworks@Greencup yesterday.
The first was a classically trained pianist from the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory. She is considering teaching for us. We always advise new teachers to come to a Saturday session of free lessons to see if they can handle that teaching environment.
This woman frankly admitted she was shocked. At her conservatory students were taught in a private room with a grand piano. I pointed out that all the equipment in the room has to fit in my Honda Element at the end of the day. She asked how it was possible to learn with the cacophony of multiple lessons on many instruments all happening at the same time. I told her I didn't know, but that it worked. Out of the 40 to 60 students we see each week at Greencup, only a handful are new. I don't think we'd get so many returning students if they weren't learning. She shook her head.
She said that a keyboard isn't the same as a piano. I responded that it worked fine for students that might have no access to an instrument. Better a keyboard than nothing! She was taken aback and said she would not take students who had no piano at home. I told her that for many that we teach, an instrument at home is not possible. We do our best to lend them instruments or to give them practice time at our locations.

As we talked, the students streamed up the stairs and were guided to teachers. It was so noisy that Craig had to draw his circle of cellists close so they could hear. Our Russian visitor watched in wonder. Finally she said that it was obvious from the crowd that there was a tremendous need for what we were offering and that she would consider volunteering to teach a couple of hours each week. She said she wanted to figure out how we were making it work.

Later, another couple came by. They are music majors at the University of South Alabama and we have asked them to teach for us this summer. Having heard much about what we were doing already, they were eager to get involved. Their questions were not about how Scrollworks was possible, but more about how MUCH Scrollworks is possible. The contrast was striking but not surprising. Part of it is generational, I think, and part environmental.

I am excited to get all these people involved, no matter their provenance or preconceptions. What is important is a passion for music and a desire to share that with others, especially those who otherwise do not have ready access to instrument instruction. All of them will be changed by the experience and that will be good for our community.