At a time when the nation is politically polarized – when we’re divided by over a hundred channels of cable and a growing gap between rich and poor, a woman in Charlottesville has created a vibrant space for people to connect.
As a music teacher, Emily Morrison began inviting people to her house for lessons and concerts -- sometimes on the front porch.
“The front porch is a place, historically in the United States, where neighbors gather to visit, often to play music<" she explains. "Everyone is welcome. It’s an open and egalitarian space that represents the best part of this country.”
The experience was contagious, and Morrison quickly ran out of space, so she raised money to occupy a two-story building off the downtown mall where locals could study all kinds of music and dance.
“Jazz, blues, African drumming. There is swing dancing here every Wednesday night," Morrison says. "We do monthly Cajun dances and monthly square dances, and most of these are free of charge.”
She was especially concerned about kids from poor families who might be enduring a rough childhood, so, again, she raised money to pair professional musicians with children who couldn’t afford private lessons.
“There’s enormous amounts of research that shows having quality musical experiences is very healing for children who’ve experienced trauma. Music has also been highly documented as being really good for math scores, so there’s emotional, social and intellectual benefit to having a quality music education, and there’s a big gap in access,” says Morrison.
The Front Porch also organizes Soul Suppers where folks can come for a meal and some after dinner music. It reaches out thru schools with another program called Roots and Wings, and there are jam sessions that draw people of all ages and backgrounds – among them, Mary Louise Kelley.
“When I retired, one of my new challenges was to learn something new, and it’s play the mandolin,” she says.
George Davis moved here from Oklahoma and quickly made friends at the Front Porch, exclaiming, “It’s the highlight of my week. I take a lesson with Pete. Then I come jam. It’s 90% of my social life.”
Tiffany Sanchez drives to Charlottesville each week with daughters Mara and Mille:
“The 3-year-old sometimes plays her toy or her little ukulele that she’s got, but the 12-year-old plays the fiddle.”
You might expect a group of seasoned musicians to struggle with the newbies, but instructor Pete Vigour says the group is harmonious in more ways than one.
“It works amazingly well, because the experienced players that are here not that long ago were beginners themselves. They remember vividly what it was like. Everyone is very patient, tolerant,” he explains.
And musicians aren’t the only ones welcomed here. This community music center iss one block from the place where a white supremacist crashed his car into a crowd of protesters – injuring many and killing Heather Heyer. Again, founder Emily Morrison.
“We had medics in our space all day," she recalls. "We’ve always opened our doors to anyone who wants to help make Cville a better place.”
Thursday, June 13, at Champion Brewing in Charlottesville the Front Porch will showcase local musicians inspired by Heyer at a benefit for the foundation created in her name.