Author: Compton, Cliff

Frank Solivan and The Benefits of Giving back

I was thinking about kids on bluegrass, watching Frank Solivan picking his banjo in the semi dark, down at what used to be called Hobbs Grove, and now is known as the Kings river bluegrass festival. The festival hadn’t started, and Frank was taking one of his few opportunities to pick before his time was given over to the kids and the music that they bless us with. And I’m thinking about giving back, and the benefits of that.

When you devote yourself to something like Frank Solivan has, it will take a lot out of you. A lot of time. A lot of energy. It will wear you out, drive you nuts, rob your sleep, and leave you with less hair. But the benefits…….!

I moved to Sacramento to help a church with their music. It was a start up church. Set in an old converted turkey hatchery in Rio Linda. The pastor loved people and invested everything he had to minister to their needs. Somehow he got plugged into the Romanian community in Sacramento and ended up with a large immigrant population to draw his congregation from. These families were large. It wasn’t uncommon for them to have eight, ten or as many as sixteen children. In those large families there wasn’t much money, but there was a lot of opportunity to help.

Now all them kids needed something to do with their time beside beat up on their brothers and sisters and terrorize the neighborhood, so we started a music program, and since there was little to fund it with, we just did what we could with what was available. We started scouring the pawn shops and flea markets for used instruments, dented saxophones, Chinese fiddles, starter clarinets and whatever other instrument we could scrounge up, pulling the money from our own pockets and benefiting from the largess of strangers, donation of old instruments, old hymn books, and whatever. Sort of like the CBA does with its children’s lending library.

The instruments we acquired, we distributed to the children of these large families, requiring only that they used those instruments in church and that they made an honest attempt to learn to play them.

Those of us who were musically inclined took on the task of teaching these kids to play those instruments. Everything from accordion to drums to fiddle to the brass instruments to guitar to whatever and it was a big job. We’d pick the kids up a couple of times a week and bring them on a bus to the church and practice with them. Or we’d take a bunch of them to someone’s’ house, set up music stands, annoy the parents, anger the dog, and leave the neighbors wondering why badly played horns were playing John Philip Sousa marches in that crowded house next door. As one kid would learn his basic scales, we’d assign him (her) to another kid and have him teach what he’d learned to his student. Slowly, painstakingly we developed a bunch of squawking, scratching, honking musicians and as a result an orchestra, and a beginners band.

As they progressed, we brought in a concertmaster from the Sacramento symphony to teach our violins, and for some of the more gifted students, we found ways to get them lessons from the pros. The result was one day we woke up with a church full of musicians and a competent music program.

And when it was done. I was burnt out. Fried like a taco. Had nothing’ left to give.

Funny thing though, they’ve been paying me back for a long time now. The church is a lot smaller than it was. A lot of those musicians have moved on to other places, blessing others with their talents, but some of them are still around. Playing in the orchestra that I play keyboards with on Sunday mornings. Playing with the bluegrass group I play with on some Sunday nights. Singing in groups that I back up with guitar. Bringing up their children and sharing their talent with them. Doing the lord’s work. Benefiting us all.

And I’m thinking about Frank Solivan and those kids on bluegrass, and how he must feel every time he see’s one of them in a band on stage. And he’s got to know, somewhere within his humble soul, that he had part in them being there.

That’s gotta feel good.

Posted:  8/10/2012

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