As school music programs increasingly face the threat of the chopping block, the heart and mind of a local grass roots group has stepped up to the plate to continue to offer a place for musicians to play.
Lake of the Pines Music in South County launched Planet Earth Music as a way to offer performance space and community to any interested musicians.
“The purpose is to offer options and alternatives,” said owner Mikel Paul. “There is no solution, but we can open a door and provide a path for people.”
The store, which has been in operation for eight years, has four lesson rooms, a recording studio and “The Moon Room,” with a 20-foot wide stage complete with lights and a sound system, able to fit about 75 seats or 110 standing individuals, which is used for open mic nights and events.
Last month, Anne Vaaler, the choir teacher for Pleasant Ridge School District, was given a preliminary layoff notice, along with seven other employees, in advance of the March 15 deadline by which districts must issue any notices of potential layoffs.
She said the efforts of Lake of the Pines Music have continued to offer music for students, though she hopes her program is maintained.
She said she and Paul have discussed “out-of-the-box” ways to support performances, and have talked about a possible youth chorus.
“I’m hopeful that our school district’s music funding will be restored, granting continued access to high-quality music instruction for all of our kindergarten through eighth-grade students,” Vaaler said.
“I am hopeful that the ‘Moon Room’ can be a place for even more music-making. And I’m grateful to Mikel for his passion, energy and generosity in working to keep music education available to the community.”
Paul and his son feel strongly about the state of the music program and say they want to do all they can to curtail the problem.
“The school programs are choking. The system has dictated that there is no room and it can’t be funded, because it can’t be tested,” Paul said. “Instead of waiting for someone else to figure out what we’re going to do in the system, we can make our own system.”
“If kids aren’t into sports or academics, there’s not a lot out there for them,” said Mitchyl Perisich, Paul’s son. “It leaves kids with nothing to do but make bad choices.
“I’ve always been around a music store, so I can’t imagine not having music. I would have been a completely different person without it.”
Planet Earth was founded about a year and a half ago by Paul, Perisich and two other musicians, Peter Welty and Ralph Burnett. Paul also invites professional musicians to visit The Moon Room to offer advice and guidance for aspiring musicians.
“We’d like to get professional artists like Tower of Power or Bill Champlin here to tell their stories, so students can have that support,” Paul said.
The program has served a platform for young musicians, some of whom have taken lessons with Lake of the Pines Music for several years.
“They get practical experience on how to do things on stage and get rid of all the nerves; they learn to have fun and it’s just a good experience for them to grow as musicians,” said Patrick Earl, whose daughter, Savannah, 13, plays keyboard and his son, Phillip, 15, plays guitar and took lessons at Lake of the Pines Music for about three years.
Earl’s daughter was in the choir since grade school in the Pleasant Ridge School District and said reductions in music programs rob children the opportunity to develop a talent that can be used later on in life.
“So there’s no ability for them to have an outlet,” he said.
Debbie McDonald, a parent of a Twin Ridges Charter student, uses funding the school provides for enrichment programs for music lessons for her son, Josh.
“We have the ability to use our charter school money to pay for lessons and fill out an agreement with the school and say, ‘My child is very sports or language or music-oriented’ and figure out how to nurture that,” McDonald said. “I think the music foundation has been great because Josh loves to play music and he can share that passion and interest, cultivate relationships and have that shared experience.”
Another student, Benjamin Spins, 13, who attends private school Live Oak Waldorf in Meadow Vista, says Lake of the Pines Music has helped him grow to love music.
“It’s been a great experience with really nice people who have helped me,” Spins said. “I asked Mike if he could help me write a song and he was all about it and has been working with me almost every weekend and we are going to use the recording studio to record a CD,” Spins said.
“I’m really glad I live so close so I can work over there and have that at my disposal.”
Music also acts a way to help students cope with difficult situations and express feelings, said Jayne Woods, whose grandson, Jordan, became passionate about bass guitar after his uncle introduced him to music.
“Jordan started taking lessons at Lake of the Pines Music, found his passion and plays in two bands now,” Woods said, adding Jordan has played at the St. Joseph’s Cultural Center, the Nevada County Fair, the Center for the Arts and has volunteered for Music in the Mountains’ childrens summer program. He plans to attend the jazz program at American River College in the fall.
Two years ago, Jordan’s uncle and grandfather, passed away within one week of each other. Woods said music helped him cope with the situation.
“We went from a family of four to a family of two,” Woods said. “Jordan was able to express his grief through his music and I can’t tell you how much it helped him get through that. One of my neighbors calls Jordan her hero because of the way he had risen to the occasion.”
Paul also offers a scholarship program for those who want to take lessons, but need financial assistance, and are willing to give back.
A student is responsible for 25 percent of the cost of lessons and the store will cover 75 percent, with the condition that the student donate half the lesson hours to giving back to the store anyway they can.
“It could be an older student teaching music to a younger student, or any way that feels comfortable,” Paul said.
“It’s a way for kids to give back and continue the program, so it will eventually feed itself.”
For information, visit planetearthmusic.org or contact Lake of the Pines Music located at 10055 Wolf Rd. #B1 at 530-268-2500 or Mikel Paul at 530-613-8357.
Upcoming events include the Magnolia jazz band 7 p.m. April 19, a rap night 7 p.m. April 26 with the Auburn-based rap band Silent Hittas and Singer/Songwriter night 7 p.m. April 27.
“Anyone who wants to do their original music can come and play,” Paul said. “Bring your stuff, donations are warmly accepted. We’re trying to fund the events and projects and really get this thing going.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.