Sunday, May 24, 2009

An Abundance of Heroes

Yesterday we had an MYOCA board meeting. Disappointingly, it was not well attended. The agenda was difficult, with the final agenda item requiring us to face our funding challenges.

I came out of that meeting with two heroes: Jimmy Hrom and Craig Hultgren.

Jimmy seems to be a pessimist, but he's actually a realist. He sees the difficulties, and yet he still believes. Every time I hear him speak about our mission, I am amazed that someone else sees what I see and wants to build it, make it succeed. And he works very hard. Very hard. He is invaluable to the organization and to me.

Craig has believed from the very beginning and he is giving more time, money and energy than any reasonable person should. I can't even begin to express my appreciation.

Mrs. Bullock arrived at Hill School just as we were closing early for teacher training. She said she didn't want a guitar lesson because she hasn't been able to focus on learning music for the last month. Her son has been in the hospital for four weeks and is scheduled for heart surgery this week. She handed me $110, all in $1 bills and apologized for not having time to grab the change she'd collected. Another hero.

I came home to find this email:

Dear Jeane Goforth
I saw your e-mail and proud to say that I would love to volunteer as I can. If it doesn't conflict with my work days. My sister and recentley toured your process on pass Saturday, however we are unable to make it this Saturday because of family reasons. We would be interested in teaching the French Horn when we can and participate, in any programs you have. I haven't played many instruments after middle school and need refreshing course so I can play with the Alabama Orchestras. Are there any more music stores down in Alabama so my sister can purchase cellos and violins. I will try to talk to my former band techers, Mr.Carr;Jackson Olin, Mr. Lewis; Bush Middle to thier time as they can.
We need more people like you to keep music in our schools and around the world.

Denise Rice
Dianna Rice

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Video of Quiara performing at the Character Counts assembly

Video is here.

For those that don't subscribe to the main MYO blog, here is the video of the spot that was on Fox news;

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mixed Media

In case you were wondering what Jimmy did in his spare time, he's a chiptune composer. Here is a link to a performance he did last Friday. (Scroll to the bottom.) I played "Chip, Ship & Away" for his students at Hill Elementary today and they were very impressed.

Steve Crocker of Fox6 News was at Scrollworks on Saturday. I just spoke with him and he said the story would air tomorrow (Tuesday, May 19) at 6 pm. Video should be available here eventually.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Messing up

I messed everything up yesterday. But I realized upon looking at these photos that the biggest problem we're having is actually good: students really want to come and then they don't want to leave.

I apologize to the orchestras for misunderstanding who Mr. Houston wanted where for the Art Feast in Avondale Park yesterday.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Warning: Barriers Falling!!

Yesterday was Scrollworks intense. I went to Hill with Molly in the morning. She taught violin in the gym while I monitored students practicing piano, guitar and cello.

We had students come to practice who weren't called: Jasmine, who has a piano at home, but is puzzling out the more difficult music Jimmy gave her. We had students stay to work with the next person called for their instrument: Shamari and Ataria passed the cello back and forth, prompting each other with Craig's very words.

Ja'Cory brought his own guitar for the very first time. It was incredibly out of tune, but he fingered Twinkle smoothly. (Jimmy tuned it after school.) Also for the first time, a few practiced their own instruments and then experimented with another. I love it when they call me over to listen to the piece they are working on.

After school, the free lessons started slowly but it grew so crowded that teachers stayed late to finish up with everyone. We had to recruit students and parents to teach. Little Amy showed even littler Sa'Coria the basics of the violin. Her mom helped Akil on piano. Amia taught guitar, Claudia taught piano. We sent a clarinet home with Tionna.

The staff at Hill Elementary has bent over backwards to accommodate Scrollworks. They are funny and warm and helpful and understanding. There are a couple, though, who have seemed irritated by how our presence adds to their workload. One of the ladies has spent a lot of time chasing me around locking and unlocking and relocking doors. Thursday she came in the gym to chain the doors while Kevin and Jason were working with Quiara. (See a video here.) She stood with an amazed look on her face as Quiara completed her performance with a flourish of sticks and sound. She clapped and could not stop smiling. She asked when she could see Quiara do an official performance. A skeptic became a believer.

We are always inconveniencing the lady who does after-care. We sometimes stay so late in the auditorium that it makes it difficult for her to have everything just so by 3 o'clock. On our first Friday afternoon at Hill, we asked her if she wanted to send any students to take music lessons. She responded with a curt negative. Yesterday I heard a professional-sounding performance on the drum set out in the school yard. Jordan, a very passionate volunteer, was demonstrating for a half-dozen drum students from the after care program. Mrs. Spivey was watching, nodding and smiling. She said she'd ask the parents if more students could participate. Another convert. I LOVE it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

To Play and to Fight

When I am walking the halls of Hill Elementary, I'm likely to get unexpectedly broadsided with a hug from a student. I'm bad with names, but I am surprised how many of these children I know. Even now, near the end of the school year, students beg to take music lessons at Scrollworks. It's a relief to be able to tell them to come to their own school on Friday or Saturday afternoons for free lessons.

All of these children are treasures, but some of them have wormed their way into my heart. They are the ones who want to do music so badly that no obstacle is too great. The motto of Venezuela's El Sistema is 'Tocar y Luchar' -- to play and to fight. That's what these children are doing: fighting to play music. They come even if they don't hear their name called. They bring their music folder, battered and bent with shredded sheet music sticking out. They endure the teacher getting on them for not practicing when it really wasn't their fault. They persist even when they have no support at home. They try and try and keep trying. Ja'Cory. LaDeja. JaDerius. JahHara. DiMario. John. Brian. It's a long list. Almost as long as the list of difficulties they will have to overcome to succeed even in a small way. Given any kind of edge, these young musicians would blow some of their privileged suburban counterparts out of the water.

We are not giving them enough of an edge. We have accomplished some things. Just showing up every day, every week for a whole school year is significant to these children. Consistency is not common in their experience. But what these children need is more time to learn, practice, and play music and their own instruments. We're going to adjust and we're going to help these children--and as many more as we can--succeed in music and in life. The world will be better for it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Gift of a Rose

After an intense Friday, we were expecting the same Saturday. But instead we had the quietest Saturday since the weekend after Christmas. I relished the calm as I watched the student teachers having time to get lessons themselves and the entire teaching staff bonding more deeply.

Tionna once again was the first student to arrive. Her teacher had brought her straight from an award ceremony where Tionna had gotten a certificate for participating in a mentoring program. Tionna walked in the door and gave me a rose. Then she got out a clarinet and barely put it down for the rest of the afternoon.

Tionna is why this program is important. Last Saturday I asked her to call her mom after she and her cousin Sa'Coria had been at Scrollworks for 3 hours. They weren't causing trouble, but Sa'Coria was bored. I was worried that I couldn't keep track of her as she wandered in and out of the school. Tionna had tears in her eyes and a stubborn set to her jaw as she left. Friday Tionna asked me how long they could stay without an adult. I said an hour. Tionna negotiated for an hour and a half. After all that, she brings me a rose.

Armani is another reason this program is important. He started calling me as I left for the office at 9:30 to see how he could arrange to get to Scrollworks. His mom had to go to work far too early to drop him off at the school. He ended up getting dropped off at the office and riding to Hill with Jimmy. Armani is a bit lazy, but he has music in his blood, so I put him to work teaching winds. He needs to learn more himself but he can get beginners started.

Tionna's hunger for musical knowledge burns bright. As the crowd thinned, Jimmy noticed. Even though he doesn't play any wind instrument, he sat down with Tionna to work on music reading and theory. Then Dwight came by. He was enchanted by this young lady, teaching her and her cousin for more than an hour. He was so impressed by how much both of them learned, but more impressed by the passion.

A special thank you to Craig for holding his cello circle and Elana and her student Louisa for teaching piano. Since it was quiet, Elana discussed piano curriculum with Jimmy and helped he and Claudia improve their skills so they can do a better job teaching. Elana gave Jimmy a few pages of scales. They were labelled with the Cyrillic alphabet, so I had fun remembering my Russian lessons and picking out the words 'major' and 'minor'.

An update on the fund raising:
Claudia made $12 selling the cupcakes she baked. She should have made $13, but Armani asked to put his on his tab.
Since we discovered that raffles are illegal in Alabama, Mrs. Easter spent some time with me discussing other ideas. We talked about a car wash. She wants to sell candy. But I made her get her piano lesson before we finished any plans.
We've gotten a donation from our webmaster and from Jah's grandma.
If you can spare $10 (or any amount), you can donate here:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Preventing a famine of the spirit.


These are the 24 students who came to Scrollworks for free music lessons today. In addition, there were two little boys--3 and 4 years old--who came for drums and didn't sign in. Tomorrow we will likely double this again.

Everyone in the gym of Hill Elementary today was consumed with hunger. The students are reaching out for the sustenance of the soul that music can provide. The teachers look to be filled with the spirit of giving and the satisfaction that brings.

You can share this generous spirit, the very soul of Scrollworks, by sponsoring next week's lesson for one of these students. Each lesson costs us $10.

Who would you like to sponsor? Here are a few of their stories:

When Lizzie would come to Greencup for lessons, I felt like we were living in an Edgar Allen Poe tale. Long before we were done setting up, she would very slowly climb up the stairs with her metal cane: "CLUNK, thump, thump...CLUNK, thump, thump." Lizzie just turned 74. A stranger on the street asked her if she wanted free piano lessons and her heart leaped. She's been dreaming of learning the piano all her life. (The stranger was Mrs. Bullock!)

Tionna came for the first time last week. She's from a different neighborhood, so her mom drives her to Scrollworks. (It's amazing her mom's car can move.) After two lessons, Rick was comfortable leaving her to supervise Gabriel and Sa'Caria exploring the clarinet. She begged to take a clarinet home today. We have given our extras to students from Hill, so she'll have to wait until we can repair the broken one at the office.

Caitlin and Cameron, pictured at the top with Mary Lee, are long time favorites. Caitlin plays the piano and Cameron plays guitar. Their mom has MS, so their grandma brings them. They practice and make good progress.

Christan and Teresa are also favorites. Like the mother mentioned above, Teresa has serious health issues. But she always has a smile and works hard on learning the guitar. Christan does the teen-age pout almost as well as she plays piano.

Where would your money go if you sponsored a lesson? To our teachers, of course:

To Jimmy, who has been donating back part of his pay check and donating method books and has already written $15,000 in (pending) grants and is working on $70,000 more. If you love me, then you have to love Jimmy because he's given me more than just a day off each week. He's given me back my sanity.

To Amia, a recent immigrant. This is her first job, and it's an amazing choice for her to make, coming from South Africa to teach music to inner city children.

To Rick, and Marcus.

Claudia and Jordan volunteer their time on Fridays.
Me? I don't get paid in money, but my heart is always full.