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.

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