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Teaching little musicians to play

Music Guild is expanding its offerings, even as it seeks a new home.

Most of the preschool-age students are using the wooden percussion sticks to keep time to the music.

But a few have found creative variations, not necessarily music-related – like the tyke who holds them to her head antenna-style, and another who nonchalantly strolls the perimeter of the circle of moms and kids, stick dangling from his mouth like a stogie.

Kindermusik is a lively start to the day at Ihland House, current home to the Island Music Guild.

The Bainbridge nonprofit has been increasingly active under director Norman Johnson, who has headed the organization since January 2003.

While the wee ones and moms romp in the ground-floor group room, the sounds of an accomplished violin float downstairs from one of the more than 400 students taught by guild members in the course of a week.

The music also wafts into the open windows of landlord Sally Hewett’s dental office next door, a pleasant feature of a relationship that has been mutually beneficial, both say.

But Hewett plans an addition to her office, and Island Music Guild must find a new home by June 15.

“I’m happy for their success,” Hewett said, “but it is really the growth of both our businesses that has made it impossible to accommodate both in our small parking lot. I’m very sad to see them go.”

Johnson says IMG’s tenure in the historic 1912 building at 1037 Madison has been happy.

“It’s centrally located and a lot of kids walk here after school,” he said. “It’s just very pleasant; it seems like a musical building and the beautiful gardens enhance the studies.”

They’re jazzed

Johnson believes that quickly relocating to new quarters will be critical to preserving the group’s momentum, which has taken a quantum leap in the last year.

Founded in 1999 as the Island Music Teachers Guild by music teachers Alan Simcoe, Sharla Graham and Stuart Williams, the group was created to enhance music education and performance on Bainbridge. The trio still hold positions on the board.

Since Johnson took the reins a year ago, IMG has received nonprofit status and become licensed by both ASCAP and BMI. IMG now boasts 55 members, who run the gamut from music teachers, performers, technicians, composers and academics to enthusiastic hobbyists and music boosters.

Professionals of note who have joined up include renowned tech-funk “re-mixer” Carlos da Silva; composer and retired director of San Jose State University’s computer music program Allen Strange; and David Bristow, who designed the sounds for the Yamaha DX7, a 1980s-era instrument that Johnson calls “the mother of all synthesizers.”

As the membership has grown, so has the range of activity.

IMG hosts workshops, seminars and lectures on subjects from intermediate fiddling to this weekend’s “deep listening” workshop with experimental music grande dame Pauline Oliveros.

The group partners with the schools’ music programs to provide supplemental lessons, and also offers summer camps.

Encouraging live music is a big priority, so IMG stages concerts by artists like jazz great Bill Frisell; hosts live music every Saturday night at Pegasus, as well as weekly open mics and networking social hours; organizes a monthly “song circle”; sponsors field trips to venues from Port Townsend to Benaroya; and provides music for island events that range from the Earth Day Family Dance to the semi-annual artists’ Studio Tour.

The events have been documented by Johnson in a video series that airs on Bainbridge Island Broadcasting.

The guild also provides chances for musicians to record their work.

“There are guys who come at 2 or 3 a.m. to record when there’s no street noise or interruption,” Johnson said.

Another new program is record demo CDs for Bainbridge High School students applying to college.

“This is another service we started to do this year,” Johnson said. “We have one (student) coming who’ll be playing French horn. We are doing it free of charge for all students, whether they are members of the guild or not. All we request is that they bring their own blank CDs.”

And that’s not counting concerts by IMG teachers and students.

“It’s definitely 40-plus hours,” said Johnson, a retired Navy chemist. “It’s been fun, but it does take a lot of time. Ask my wife.”

The welter of activity is just what IMG should be, he believes – an organization that, like Johnson himself, embraces the broadest possible definitions of both “music” and “music-lover.”

“I want to stress the inclusiveness of our philosophy about music on the island,” he said.

The IMG vision for the future includes a home that welcomes that diversity.

Johnson would like to find a space with practice rooms and a larger areas for meetings and performance.

“It would be great if the practice rooms were acoustically isolated,” he said, “and if the performance space could hold 50.”

While Johnson says he hopes that IMG will find the right space to make the transition smooth, he believes in the organization’s ultimate resiliency and strength.

“The guild is not a building,” he said. “The guild is a group of people who work together.

“It hasn’t been all me. A lot of people have joined in because we’re going somewhere.”

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