Where There’s Will, There are Ways

  • 05/30/2013
  • Terelle Jerricks

Arts Flourish at Boys and girls Clubs, Despite Cultural Cutbacks at Struggling Public Schools

By Arthur R. Vinsel, Contributing Writer

Ragamuffin sons of mostly fishermen, who paid 75 cents a year to join the 1937-founded San Pedro Boys Club, would be wonder-struck today at how time, talent and technology have transformed the old hangout where they learned to swing a baseball bat.

Another milestone among many spanning most of a century occurs June 1, after 10 weeks of rehearsal and preparation for their new Arts Academy premiere.

The public is invited to the festival of Music, Fine Arts, Animation and Game Design, plus Dance, at the club’s more spacious facility, 1444 W. Q St., Wilmington, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., for a playbill of 16 musical numbers mastered since March.

“We had a full rehearsal last week to see if they are ready and they just blew us away. They are more than ready,” said Tony Tripp, operations manager of the San Pedro branch and director of its Arts Academy.

As some professional theatrical productions have two troupes, the San Pedro and Wilmington facilities each have a musical unit with separate instructors performing eight tunes at the June 1 show.

Art, dance, video games designed and built by the middle school creative crews will also be featured, but the emphasis is music rooted in blues, the truest original American art form.

The 25 musicians in each branch’s first recital — two will take place each year — were hand-picked for experience and training. Sign-ups for fall session candidates begin after the  upcoming premiere.

Their tastes range from rock and reggae to opera and classical, with most hoping for a musical career and some bound for college and university enrollment in the fall.

“We wanted to see if we could teach them to make great music–and in only 10 weeks. We did!,” says Tripp, 33, who studied music at Los Angeles Harbor College and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

“I have to credit Harbor College for the bulk of my music education.”

Tripp has other administrative duties, while colleague Edwin Porras is Music Director at Wilmington, San Pedro and Port of Los Angeles (POLA) branches of the Boys and Girls Club of the Los Angeles Harbor Area.

Tripp says the 16-tune musicfest is roughly conceived as a look at the birth of the blues, which gave rise to rock and roll and more modern musical idioms, but the classics are not ignored.

His cadre of paid instructors are all professional musicians aged 24 to 30 and include petite redhead Caitlin Moss, drums; towering bassist Seth Barnes, whose bull fiddle seems violin-sized; Omar Tassi, guitar; Judell Totong, keyboard, and Angelina Johnson-Gamble, vocal coach.

Porras has degrees in music from  Cal State Long Beach and Los Angeles, respectively and has taught at the club five years  to 11 for Tripp and both love their work.

“We’ve been talking about the Arts Academy for about two years,” says Porras, explaining the sessions cover music theory, history and plenty more in 10 weeks, although some kids have had extensive training.

Although they work part-time like many musicians, all of Porras’ club staff have college or university degrees and include Christine Mattera, piano; Aaron Norman, vocal, Manuel Urguelas, guitar; Brad Babinsky, bass, and Paul Stengel, percussion.

When the 10-week course is finished, each of the clubs will have five bands of five members each, ready to play whatever music is placed before them.

Money is always tight, and indeed music, art, and other classes considered more frivolous and less practical than the three R’s will be cut from the curriculum.

After the needs were calculated and the cash counted for allotment by grantmakers who considered the formal proposal, the Ahmanson Foundation awarded $100,000 for the first year. County Supervisor Don Knabe, who made his living as a bandleader years ago allocated $25,000 in county funds.

“Why are you doing this?” asked Bill Ahmanson, president of the nonprofit charitable foundation.

The question could be answered many ways. A passage on the Arts Academy’s Xeroxed leaflet put it best:

Through the Arts Academy, we will strive to develop the individual identity  of our members. It is no secret that participation in the arts helps self esteem, raises grades and test scores, enhances critical thinking, helps to develop bonds, shatters stereotypes and biases, allows for self-expression…and the list goes on and on. Yet, in light of all these benefits, the “cost” of the arts has seemed to be its undoing because it’s effects cannot be measured on a scantron test or by an evaluator. No, the effects of the arts can only be felt by those who have experienced them first hand.

The real traits of an arts program are not virtuoso performers, priceless  pieces of art, or prima ballerinas.  The real value is how the experience fes the soul, thus creating a well rounded and complete human person.

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