Raise your hand if the Old Town School changed your life!

Save Old Town School member Rich Gordon - creator of the Save the Old Town School of Folk Music petition - delivered these remarks at the November 10, 2018 rally challenging the sale of the School’s building at 909 W. Armitage.

Raise your hand if the Old Town School changed your life!

It definitely changed mine.

I walked into the original Lincoln building sometime in the year 2000, soon after I moved to the Midwest from Florida.

I heard music coming from every direction and I said, I am coming back here again soon.  

In 2001, I enrolled in Guitar 1.  I worked my way up to Guitar 3. Then I flunked barre chords.

But that’s OK because in 2003, when I was attending FIRST FRIDAY -- Remember First Friday at Lincoln?? -- I discovered the School had these classes called “ensembles.”  For 15 years now, I’ve taken as many three different classes every session, mostly ensemble classes, at Lincoln AND Armitage.

The Old Town School has given me new friends, a band that played two gigs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival -- in Scotland! -- and at least one day every week when I forget about everything except the joy of making music with other people.

The current administration thinks that class enrollment is down because people can learn to play guitar on the Internet.  If they think that’s what taking an Old Town School class is about, no wonder they can’t figure out how to market the classes.

The administration also thinks that there’s nothing they can do to turn enrollment around.  They are SO wrong. All they have to do is collect -- and tell -- the stories of all of us whose lives were completely changed because of the Old Town School.

My story: I started in Guitar 1 in 2011, and twelve years later this guy who flunked barre chords was in a band playing in Scotland.  And I get to play guitar for three hours every week with Steve Levitt!!

Speaking of the teachers, who are truly the heart and soul of the School: This is a partial list of other teachers who’ve taught me everything I know about music:  Alton Smith, Shelley Miller, Jimmy Tomasello, Cathy Norden, Steve Dawson, Nathaniel Braddock, Rita Ruby, Steve Doyle (Guitar 1), Harlan Terson, Chris Walz, the late---great Gwen Pippin, Dan Fulkerson, Elaine Moore, Charles Kim, Andrea Bunch, Jacob Sweet, Linda Smith.  Not to mention Oscar Jasso, who taught my son piano for 12 plus years. And his Little Drummers instructor, and his tap dancing instructor, and more.

Thank you, Old Town Teachers Organization -- OTTO -- for getting the faculty together and pointing in the same direction, maybe for the first time in a long time.

The current administration thinks that that selling this building amounts to “taking a bricks and mortar asset and converting it into a financial asset.” What a crude way to describe a building where, even more than the Lincoln Square West location -- and much more than that East building -- music comes out of the walls, floorboards and ceilings!  

I believe most members of the board of directors sincerely believe selling 909 is the only way to ensure the School’s future.  But the math doesn’t make sense. Endowment payments from selling 909 will amount to less than $200,000 a year, less than half the operating deficit the school is running these days.

This building is the last physical link to the  original founders of the Old Town School -- who built a Chicago institution that, literally, has changed all of our lives for the better.   Save Old Town School calls on the board to put the sale of 909 on hold -- and once they do, let us all promise to work with them to fill this building and all the other buildings, 7 days a week, with people making a joyful noise together!  

Thanks for coming out!

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Here is a video of Rich Gordon speaking at the rally on November 10, 2018: https://youtu.be/gAsUlkZH39s?t=885
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The following photos were taken at the November 10, 2018 rally by Michelle Stenzel 2018, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives.