Saturday, January 17, 2009

Positive Blues

Friday night Barkeep went to the Rich DelGrasso event, the season finale of the Cactus Music Series. While I was in North Carolina in the 70s I got to know a lot of mandolin players in the bluegrass field. Between that, and a real love of blues, I had to catch this act. Folks, it was time and money well spent, my thanks to everyone who made it happen.

DelGrasso is not only a master of his art, he was a communicator par excellance. Mixing music with history, playing a variety of mandolins and guitars, by show's end one felt a personal bond with the man. His years as a teacher showed, and a world class teacher he was. I hope we can make this man at least an annual visitor.

Along with the concert, a term that doesn't really do justice to the experience, DelGrasso spent time at Central with music students from Central and Lakeview High Schools earlier in the day. His website, describes this "Blues in the Schools" program in more detail, but it is a loose organization of musicians willing to share their passion and time with students.

In what turned into a two-way treat, he invited three high school students he had just met that day to sit in during the second set. No rehearsal, no music sheets, just jamming. We saw Greg Ponder on trumpet, Tom Blackwood on sax, and Brianna Velasquez on bass. Tentative for a couple bars, these kids settled in and played right back at DelGrasso. The applause was not just polite noise for the "home team", these guys were good! I was able to speak to them afterwards, and they were lit up, I doubt any of them will ever forget this event. My personal history was as a high school thespian, and I can tell you, when we got a standing O for "Zoo Story", well, that was a rush I can remember like it was yesterday even though it was back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

The students gave an enthusiastic thanks to their music teachers, Adam Chappell and Mike Berry. We are blessed to have these teachers.

DelGrosso, who recently moved to Texas from Los Angeles, made a point of telling us how much he appreciated an active arts program here. As part of California's budget crunch, there is no arts curriculum there anymore in public schools.

Just in case I have made the impression that I am all about budget in the school district, let me correct that. Yes, I want to see high school graduates who can read and make change without a calculator, and I want it done within a responsible budget, but arts are an important part of becoming a well-rounded adult. Fortunately, we have a good program here, as demonstrated Friday night. We want to make sure we keep it that way in the face of an economic downturn.

Texas is nowhere close to the budget debacle California is facing. The Legislature will have less income to play with this term, but within the limits of our "Rainy Day fund"...this time. I personally predict they will find away to extend the bond guarantee program that districts with new bonds were counting on, and continue EDA support for school bonds. As voters, we need to keep those cards and letters coming, so to speak, that we don't regard arts programs as frills subject to cutting in the education budget.

I stress, no one on SAISD Board is making any noise about eliminating or cutting arts, I don't expect it anytime soon. Going back a few years and a different Board, I would not have expected cuts in Vocational Ed, but we got them. One particular item to watch; the new Admin/Science Lab building at Central will necessarily displace the existing home of the arts depatment. This will need to be done in a way that allows for continued participation in arts programs by as many students as we can interest in them.

Extra-curricular does not translate to irrelevant. Aside from the well-rounded part, any program that grabs a student's interest will help keep that kid in school. I remember a guy in high school, very good auto mechanic, this kid was making a grown man's wage after school and weekends working on cars, had a better reputation than men twice his age. He was ready to drop out, work full time in his sophomore year. My Drama teacher, Mrs. Richards (who coincidentally spent two years in San Angelo while her military husband learned Russian at Goodfellow-small world) detected something more than class clown in him and talked him into a part in a comedy we put on. Turned out, he had a comedic presence that came across the footlights, got the most laughs of anyone in this little farce, and he was hooked. I really believe he hung in and graduated high school because he was having a ball in drama. That degree probably didn't enhance his earnings much, he went on to own his own garage, but I know he still treasures the time he spent on stage.

I have good expectations of the Legislature, but if need be, we should be prepared to support the arts in our schools locally, a public/private effort if needed. My Drama club in high school, we had an auditorium and the faculty advisor, but for costumes and scenery and travel to competitions, we washed cars, sold tickets, begged, borrowed and stole (a little bit). If SAISD can find $6 million for athletic showers, we can fund a lively arts program.

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