Other Expressions

Morse Academy Is Reinvigorating Community Music

Robert Rotzler and his student

Robert Rotzler and his student


Janet Beazley conducts a workshop

Janet Beazley conducts a workshop

In today’s world, even a brief tweet (aka micro-blog) can be a burden on some attention spans. I feel compelled to communicate to the broadest audience with this message: on May, 3 the public is welcome to participate in the Morse Academy’s Open House starting at 11am. Everyone is welcome and it’s free!

However, this a newspaper for Pete’s sake and I also feel compelled to provide a fascinating narrative for those readers who are fond of enjoying a cup of something while reading good, old-fashioned print! If your cup still has something in it, here’s the backstory…

A few years ago, I decided to start taking my study of jazz guitar seriously, so I decided to actually take lessons from a bona fide instructor. I didn’t know exactly where to look. I knew blues players, singer-songwriters, etc. but I didn’t know how to connect with a great jazz guitar teacher. I knew that I’d know the right place/person when I found it/them.

It can be challenging to find good resources to expand one’s awareness within the world of music – be they teachers or performers, especially when you aren’t already entrenched in all the different subcultures. I had already reached out to other amateurs (like me), but I really wanted to connect with professionals. So, I was glad when friends helped me to connect with my teacher at New Expressions, a music store and teaching hub in North Park. It was just what I was looking for and it was right in my neighborhood!

That last point was really important – local, community-integrated art has big advantages! I started to realize that there was more than just a teacher that I’d found. Since New Expressions was right in my neck of the woods, I could spare time to participate in a whole host of interesting events. I took a fantastic jazz mandolin workshop from two touring Oregonians just one week after starting my lessons. The workshop was so helpful that it literally changed my perception of the guitar (which is amazing, given that it was a mandolin workshop!). Next, I was joining guitar jams and even a workshop on bluegrass harmony singing (I’m still trying get my minor thirds right!)
Unfortunately, New Expressions, the music store, closed. But, the educational staff remained and have formed the Morse Academy Community Music School. The school didn’t just reincarnate – it expanded and now thrives. “What we’re doing is making our own music, our own entertainment. And this is a place where people can do that. Whatever level they are – whether they’re adult learners or kids – its intergenerational.” says teacher Drew Decker. Since most of the events were (and are) coordinated directly by the faculty, the dense schedule of workshops, jams, and performances also remained. There is a rich variety of teachers that are helping educate the community about genres, technique, and even music history! The faculty at Morse offers private lessons in guitar, bass, banjo, fiddle, ukulele, Dobro, flute, recorder, pennywhistle, cello, violin, viola, mandolin, and more.

Nowadays anyone with kids (I have three of my own) knows that they are unlikely to get the music and art in schools that they used to. Being a crew of educators, Morse is reaching out to fill this important gap. Their scholarship program provides private music lessons to economically disadvantaged students. There are also instructional workshops, concerts, and instruments available to at-need and at-risk children. Quite honestly, I think it is a terrible mistake to de-emphasize art and music in schools and the fact that Morse is contributing to a solution makes me a happy parent. As a musician, you might think that I’d give my own kids music lessons? But, alas – they’re much more likely to really absorb a music lesson if it comes from someone else… funny, but true.

On Saturday, May 3rd, the Morse Academy Open House will run from 11am to 6pm. They’ll have live music all day on two different stages. Performances will range from pop to jazz, classical to bluegrass. There will also be performances by the academy’s students and instructors. There will be a raffle for instruments and accessories and an instructional jam to culminate the event. Again, all are welcome and it’s all free!

The Morse Academy Community Music School is located at 4434 30th Street, 92116. You can also find out more online at www.morseacademy.org. If you are interested in grassroots music and culture and you want to know what that looks like in your community, I hope you’ll join me at the open house!

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