Santa Monica Mirror, November 30, 2008
The creation of new schools is always a source of excitement and hope. For some of us who have been involved in such a process more than once there is always the hope that with each venture we learn more and can thus offer better and better schools.
At the risk of shamelessly proselytizing, I want to let readers know that there is a new music organization on the Westside of Los Angeles that opened this past year called SOL-LA; it provides music lessons after school and Saturday mornings, and it is quite wonderful. The organization provides all sorts of classes for students ages 5-18, and it is housed in the new Little Dolphins, the school space just off Nebraska, near New Roads High School and Santa Monica Studios – between Centinela and Stewart. The school is meeting the needs of many students whose school programs have been cut back.
SOL-LA is the dream of the remarkable Margaret Lysy, a wonderful violin teacher and a musical visionary. No sooner did Margaret come to Los Angeles (her husband, Antonio, is a world class cellist, head of the cello program at UCLA) than she began putting forth this idea to replicate programs she had founded in Montreal, Canada. SOL-LA began last year with just a few classes, but it is now in full swing, offering such classes as Fundamentals of Music and Movement, Orff Schulwerk, Language of Music, Children’s Chorus, Beginners Violin and String Ensemble, Jazz Tango Ensemble (middle and high school), Musical Theatre, Theatre Improvisation, and special needs classes.
Ultimately, schools are only as good as their teachers, and SOL-LA has assembled a remarkable faculty of first-rate musicians, experienced classroom professionals who possess what I believe is the key ingredient of teaching children – they make magic. Music at its core should be a joyful experience. The SOL-LA faculty members are all magicians who combine teaching skills and fundamentals with the excitement of improvisation, composition, and ensemble give-and-take.
It is a thrill to watch them in action. I suppose I should quickly put in two disclaimers: one, I am on the SOL-LA Board; and two, my wife is one of those magic-makers. But after 38 years of teaching music at Crossroads and heading up the Crossroads classical music program, her skills are by now pretty well-established on the Westside.
By the way, my wife Mary Ann and Kalani, another teacher, offer a form of music that may not be known to some readers. It is called Orff Schulwerk, and it is, I believe, the very best way to teach music to young people. In Orff, students learn the language of music which then makes learning an instrument more likely and understandable. Orff is generally taught at ages 5-12 (grades K-6) and, when done well, it is pure joy for children. SOL-LA does it well. Come and see.
Dating back to Proposition 13 and proceeding forward with budget cuts and an obsessive focus on test scores, the arts have been cut, neglected, and devalued. All across America a few courageous schools here and there have resisted, but, in general, the arts in our schools are in sad shape. We are in danger, in our pop dumbed-down culture, of losing sight of what quality in the arts really is. Until we come to our senses, we desperately need models of excellence, and often we must turn to private non-profits for those models. SOL-LA is just such a model.
-Paul Cummins, Mirror Contributing Writer