By Tammerlin Drummond Oakland Tribune Columnist
Angela Wellman’s lifelong dream, the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, had reached its 10th anniversary milestone. But then late last year, things suddenly fell apart.
Wellman decided to take the conservatory on hiatus for several months.
Now she’s back and is searching for a new permanent home. With the rents being what they are, her focus is deep East Oakland, which is one of the few remaining affordable areas in the city.
The conservatory may be currently homeless, but Wellman hasn’t let that keep her from her mission to provide free top-notch music education to urban children. In most jazz instruction programs, Wellman says, many of the students and teachers are white, studying music that originated with African-Americans. “Our kids don’t have the honor and privilege of studying at this deeper level that I and others are bringing,” Wellman says.
This school term, the new SFJAZZ-OPC Academy takes place in the band room at West Lake Middle School every Tuesday afternoon.Wellman, a third-generation jazz musician from Kansas City, Missouri, is the loving but no-nonsense conductor.
The students learn the techniques of playing in a jazz ensemble alongside adult musicians. Saxophone, bass and piano teachers come in on alternate weeks.
It’s not uncommon to see a jazz legend in the mix. One recent afternoon, Bay Area virtuoso guitarist Calvin Keys, who recorded with Ray Charles among many other greats, sat in on electric guitar.
Keys said he’s “trying to tell kids that there’s something to celebrate other than a drive-by.”
He was talking about the sad fact that all too-often when young people in urban neighborhood get together it’s to celebrate the life of someone killed in a street shooting. “We get these kids and show them how to play this art form and it’s beautiful,” Keys said.
After school, Rasec Barravino, 13, walks 2 ½ miles each way to the program for the chance to jam on his baritone sax. “I just love to play music,” he says.
Aviv Schifrin, an eight-grader from Berkeley, was a student at the conservatory before it closed.
“I was really disappointed and I kept asking my parents when I could go back to OPC,” he said.
The young trumpeter and his fellow musicians will perform Saturday at a youth music festival at First Unitarian Church of Oakland.
“We have a lot of kids who have a gift,” Wellman says. “And when you’ve got a gift, we’ve got to nurture that gift.”
Despite the obstacles, the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music is continuing to do just that.
The nonprofit holds its 10th anniversary gala Sunday. For more information go to http://www.opcmusic.org/Home.php