Arts and Entertainment

Music center hits a flat note with finances

At top, Island Music Center faculty Dave Carson gives Sue Anderson a clarinet lesson.  - Connie Mears / Bainbridge Island Review
At top, Island Music Center faculty Dave Carson gives Sue Anderson a clarinet lesson.
— image credit: Connie Mears / Bainbridge Island Review

Norm Johnson got involved with Island Music Center in 2002, back when it was the Island Music Teacher’s Guild, because his daughter Melissa loved music. He chauffeured her to classes and recitals in piano, guitar, drums, flute and that most powerful of instruments, voice.

As past board president and current treasurer of IMC, Johnson can be seen these days toting a new student to the Center, 2-year-old grandson Thomas. With a Kindermusik class under his small belt, Thomas will be plinking on the keyboard with teacher Marlys Burnett next week.

“Students who went through the program in Island Center’s early days are now old enough to bring their own kids,” Norm said.

Burnett, who has taught piano since the center’s beginning in 1999, said students’ ages range from 2 to 83. With more than 20 teachers, almost half with masters degrees in music, the center offers lessons in everything from fiddle to flute, from harp to saxophone.

That’s the good news.

in the red, with the blues

The counterpoint is a growing cash-flow problem stemming from an astounding 75-percent drop in individual donations since 2008, combined with cuts in funding from city of Bainbridge Island and a migration of grant dollars to social services.

The center is running in the red to the tune of $1,200 a month, and that’s after cutting loose interim executive director Julie Duke, who had stepped in after Dave Bristow’s departure.

Duke had signed on six months ago in an attempt to find grant money, but the well is dry, or at the very least, diverted to more immediate needs in the down economy.

She organized a series of benefit concerts — first with her band, then Bainbridge Has The Blues, and now Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs on Saturday.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” Norm said Tuesday at the center. “We were afraid to say anything, hoping things would turn around, but we can’t continue this way. We’re in trouble. We need the community’s help.”

In addition to reverting to an all-volunteer effort, save for a part-time office manager, the plan is to reintroduce the concept of offering memberships to the community. The multi-tiered structure starts at $100 and rises to $5,000.

Everybody pitching in

“We’re getting back to where we started, with everyone pitching in,” said Duke, who is now donating the services she was getting paid to do.

Teachers, such as Burnett and Justin Davis, all operate as independent contractors now. The synergy and the center’s 12-studio facility, not to mention its reputation in the community, make the arrangement more advantageous than going it alone in a high-overhead storefront or a low-visibility room in their home.

Davis, who teaches guitar to support his performing habit — he’s guitarist for Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs — said he enjoys being part of a community of teachers and students and thinks organizations like Island Music Center are relatively rare.

“You often see music lessons where they’re shoved in the back room of a music store” he said. “This is a pretty cool thing. You hear other lessons going on. It’s inspiring for me, and for the students to hear that next level or how far they’ve come.”

As a teacher, Davis has seen young people’s relationship to music change over the years.

“Somebody said recently that the most popular instrument these days is the iPod,” he joked. “Music is instant and free. When you have 5,000 songs in your breast pocket your relationship to it is shallow.”

“I remember buying tapes and cassettes for $10 each. And I would listen to every line because it might be a long time before I bought another.”

He said students will bring him music they want to play in his guitar class, only there’s no guitar in the song.

“They’re not learning to listen,” he said.

When he heard about the center’s financial troubles, he enlisted the help of the band. Ironically, artists and musicians are often approached for benefit causes.

“For stuff that’s important, people who are artists are sensitive to the needs,” he said. “They’re not living a life of privilege. They understand the struggle.”

 

Star Anna rocks Island Music Center Saturday

Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs will play a benefit concert for Island Music Center at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 31, at the Center, 10598 NE Valley Road.

Singer-songwriter-musician Star Anna sat down with her first snare drum at 11 and has been making some noise ever since. Her soulful vocals have attracted the attention and support of industry stars such as Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses.

When Island Music Center teacher Justin Davis was invited by his friend, drummer Travis Yost, to hear Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs, Davis was blown away.

“I became a fan that night,” Davis said at Island Music Center, where he teaches guitar.

After the show, he got in his car and told his wife, “I think I need to be in that band.”

The stars, or the dogs, must have been aligned because Star Anna’s guitar player was leaving for New York. Davis has been playing with them ever since.

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students.

For more information, visit www.islandmusic.org or call 780-6911.

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