By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"Yeah, but water is sometimes caught up in the current and keeps moving -- moving water is better than still water, 'cause still water stagnates."
"Water has to move," says Barry. "It evaporates if it sits around."
"You can be moving and not have to go against the tide; that's called being in harmony."
"But if you decide to pay your own bills instead of having the temple feed you, then you have to strive a little bit."
And if you want to learn an instrument, I suggest, you have to strive a little bit.
"Yeah," says Barry, "well, there you go."
I WALKED INTO THE CONSERVATORY as an inquiring reporter, and walked out as an incoming freshman -- not as any kind of George Plimptonesque journalistic strategy but because I owned a flute that I didn't know how to play properly, and the idea that I could learn to do something properly, for a change, suddenly seemed appealing. Did I see myself in that moment of decision as the next Eric Dolphy, Herbie Mann, Ian Anderson, Ron Hirsty (only a kid in my high school, but he could really play the flute), or was I just looking for somewhere to go? A bit of both, probably, and, in any case, $20 for a half-hour lesson felt like a relatively small price to pay for self-improvement -- measured against, say, the cost of psychoanalysis, or even lunch -- yet enough of an expense that I thought it might impose upon me the discipline I naturally lack.
James King (not the supermodel) is my flute teacher -- I'd say long-suffering flute teacher, but I haven't known him all that long. Like many Silverlake Conservatory teachers, James came out of CalArts, and a lot of the jobs he plays -- mostly Latin and straight-ahead jazz, though he also plays in the 50-piece hip-hop orchestra Dakah -- spring from that nexus. He impressed me mightily one day by playing the whole solo from Jethro Tull's "Bourée," including all the weird, growly bits, after I'd tentatively demonstrated the theme. I am not one of his prize pupils -- I made a little progress and then bumped up against my worser, lazier, less-disciplined self -- and worry that I am a disappointment, though of course he is only encouraging, and quick with new suggestions when the last ones don't work. I can't seem to make my lips do what they should. But mostly I can't seem to remember to practice trying to make my lips do what they should. But I am not giving up yet.
We are sitting in a practice room, talking about practice. "You want to take some of these kids and shake them," he says, "because if they only realized that that's all it takes, to be a professional, at their age -- if they sat down half an hour a day and consistently practiced, there'd be a lot of seriously good musicians around." Is he trying to tell me something?
"Most people have other things going on," James continues, "and it is something you can do on the side, but you can only expect certain rewards from that. This is a conservatory, and if someone comes to me, even if they're a working adult, and says, 'I just want to do this,' I'm going to treat them the same as a kid who's really bent on doing it; it doesn't take any less work." Is he talking about me?
On the other hand, he says, as if to cut me some slack, "It's fine if people just want to get a taste of this. More people should. The more people have an exposure to music, the better the world's going to be, really, the better the art's going to be -- not to mention all the scientific evidence of music being a calming thing, a spiritual healer. I've thought musically ever since I was a kid, and I know that's not normal, but to the extent that I can get people thinking like that, it's really rewarding."
IT'S THE FIRST ANNUAL SPRING Recital of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, and there is an air of serious excitement as kids arrive carrying instrument cases, clutching sheet music. Girls with flowers in their hair, boys with spiky haircuts and punk rock T-shirts slalom through a forest of adult legs. There are cookies and punch. Video cameras whir, still cameras flash. The little boom box in the corner plays jazz. It's a hip crowd, but homey. Here and there one spots the odd rock babe or dude, who seem to have wandered in from Flea's other world -- though Flea, whose hair tonight is blue, seems at this moment to belong more to this one.
I will not be performing tonight.
In the space behind the school, a concrete service area cut into the hillside, a stage has been set up, behind which hangs a royal-blue velvety curtain. Many rows of folding chairs have been arranged before it, and they are full of people. In spite of the occasional waft of refuse from the open back door of the carnicería, and the intrusive rattle of its giant cooling unit, and the occasional helicopter overhead, the show is a success. Kids dare to be great, or good, or all right, concentrating mightily upon "Yankee Doodle," "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and "Old MacDonald Had To Rock." They play, they bow to loving applause. Keith Barry sits to the side of the stage with an expression compounding amusement, enjoyment and assessment. Flea proves a hands-on headmaster -- or ringmaster -- setting music stands, adjusting microphones, emceeing the program. As the evening progresses, his introductions grow increasingly fanciful:
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