Jul 1, 2020
By Jann Eyrich, Director, Flatbed Music Festival
Much more than money, the underlying message is that kindness is passed on, in this case, music. In Sonoma County, PIF - Play It Forward Music Foundation - is devoted to providing free instruments, free music lessons and programs to those with limited resources in our community.
Only a few months before the Tubbs wildfire in October of 2017, when two musicians, Nick Simmons, co-founder with Dave Silva, both young fathers & both music teachers, created Play It Forward Music.
“Right after we started up PIF, the wildfire hit. Suddenly we were catapulted into a different trajectory because the needs had shifted. Instead of raising funds for scholarships we realized, OMG thousands of people have lost their homes and lost their instruments.”
With that fire, the needs of the music community had shifted and so did Dave and Nick who immediately teamed up with Santa Rosa Symphony and Loud & Clear Music to seek instrument donations. That partnership helped PIF distribute over 300 instruments to individuals and schools in the county. The Santa Rosa Symphony’s own instrument library was damaged, and many of its instruments destroyed in the fire. Using generous monetary donations that had come in, PIF was able to help the Symphony restock their library.
“After the fire, people came out of the woodwork; they just showed up and unloaded dozens of instruments. Calls came in from all over the Bay Area…’I’m renting a van and it’s full of instruments; we’re doing a benefit concert on the peninsula for you.’ It was amazing,” said Nick.
“I grew up in San Jose and we didn’t have much money. When our car broke down, we just didn’t have a car until we could raise the money to fix it,” Dave tells of his childhood. “My first guitar was a hand-me-down from a friend. All my friends were taking lessons and I wanted to as well, but I didn’t have money for private lessons. I taught myself anyway. So when a parent of one of my students would come to me and say they couldn’t keep paying for lessons, I would answer, ‘don’t worry about it, just pay whatever you can afford’.”
Nick’s story is a little different. “My first musical memories are being eight months old and dancing around the room in my mother’s arms to Stevie Wonder. My father played guitar. I just grew up hearing a lot of music. By the time I was in middle school, I was concentrating on the guitar. By high school, I was playing hours and hours a day,” Nick describes. “I played through the JC and went through the jazz program at Sonoma State. With local bands, I’ve had the chance to play at the first Bottle Rock on a huge stage, open for Elvis Costello and the amazing Lucinda Williams. It’s a great life.”
Nick’s words echo Dave’s regarding the inspiration that caused them to create PIF. “In our careers, we both came across students who couldn’t afford lessons so we would either give them for free or discount them, but it was a financial drain and we both had families to support.”
The restrictions of the pandemic have caused PIF to go on hiatus and their own gigs to be cancelled. In the interim, both Nick and Dave have been challenged to re-invent teaching instrumental music online to their students all the while homeschooling their own kids during ‘shelter in place’.
In November of 2019, the grassroots Flatbed Music Festival found its fiscal partner in PIF which helped celebrate its own mission to inspire youth in music. While the Festival has been postponed from its original June dates, the partnership is very much alive with new programs to keep musicians connected with the community through the summer.
“The FLATBED is a great opportunity to bring local music to the community, catch bands you wouldn’t normally hear. It also gives young musicians like our students a chance to get on the big stage and perform,” says Dave who thrives on backing up his students.
Concert Videos URL: https://www.facebook.com/FlatbedFestival
Dave has been lucky enough to be able to play at home during ‘shelter in place’ with his wife, singer/songwriter Karen Joy Brown and the couple performed in theFlatbed’s Live Stream Couch Series in April.
Meanwhile, Nick has focused on developing his home recording studio during SIP as working with his jazz band, Blue Radio, also in the original Flatbed Line Up, has been impossible.
When it is safe to teach one on one again, PIF will restart their private lessons and re-energize their programs with Santa Rosa’s Living Room and the New Horizon School and Learning Center. Until then, the music is everywhere with small live gigs popping up amidst a profusion of Live Stream Concerts.
In Woody Allen’s TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, the opening scene is Woody playing cello in a marching band. That image continues to amuse but, in this pandemic, it becomes a metaphor for the struggles of musicians today. Just imagine Dave and Nick in the sequel, TAKE THE MUSIC AND RUN with the opening scene of the world marching forward, and the musicians in their chairs trying to keep up.
PIF - Play It Forward Music Foundationwww.pifmusic.com
915B Piner Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (707) 303-6482
“Children who study a musical instrument are more likely to excel in all of their studies,
work better in teams, have enhanced critical thinking skills,
stay in school and pursue further education.”
- Arte Music Academy -
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