Folk School of Chattanooga to kick off first semester in new location

Folk School of Chattanooga to kick off first semester in new location

September 14th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Aidan Condry, 9, practices on his electric guitar before his lesson at The Folk School of Chattanooga.

Photo by Alyson Wright /Times Free Press.


• Location: 1800 Rossville Ave., Suite 4.

• Phone: 827-8906.

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• 6 p.m. Old-time beginners session

• 7 p.m. Old-time session


• 6 p.m. Traditional Irish music slow session


• 5:30 p.m. Matt's traditional standards slow-jam class


Here are courses the Folk School of Chattanooga will begin offering Monday. Eight-week classes are $140 for nonmembers, $125 for members; six-week classes are $75 for nonmembers, $65 for members. Class start times are available at

Mondays starting Sept. 17

• Old-Time Tune Learning for beginners (one-day workshop)

Tuesdays starting Sept. 18

• Kids Ukulele Class, ages 5-7 (six-week class)

• Kids Ukulele Class, ages 8-11 (six-week class)

Mondays starting Sept. 24

• Mandolin I (eight-week class)

Tuesdays starting Sept. 25

• Mountain Dulcimer I (eight-week class)

• Guitar I (eight-week class)

• Guitar II (eight-week class)

Wednesdays starting Sept. 26

• Teen Girl Singing Group (eight-week class)

• Mandolin II (eight-week class)

• SongSeeds, Music for Babies and Toddlers (eight-week class)

Thursdays starting Sept. 27

• Clawhammer Banjo I (eight-week class)

Saturdays starting Oct. 6

• Old-Time Backup Guitar (eight-week class)

Tuesdays starting Oct. 9

• Beginning Fiddle for Children (eight-week class)

Wednesdays starting Oct. 10

• Fiddle I (eight-week class)

On particularly busy afternoons, walking into the lobby of the Folk School of Chattanooga's new home on Rossville Avenue can feel like entering a musical war zone.

Instruments litter the foyer. There's a stack of a dozen mandolins, fiddles and guitars behind the counter, a psychedelically colored ukulele and bead-bedecked African shekere drum sitting on nearby shelves. The sound of a young fiddler practicing in an exterior hallway competes with the muted strains of the "The Spotted Pony" filtering through a classroom door and an Irish flutist practicing scales in the kitchen.

It's chaotic and, at times, cacophonous, but in that melting pot, executive director Christie Burns said, she hears the school's mission to help people connect with music of all kinds being played out.

"What I want people to experience is a lot of different kinds of music going on all at once, where they can walk from one room to the next one and experience completely different sounds," said Burns, 32, who co-founded the school about three years ago. "It's about all of these things coming together."

On Sept. 23, the school will host a party to celebrate moving to a larger facility from its former home on the North Shore and to kick off a fall semester of more than a dozen six- and eight-week group classes.

Every session, about 30 students enroll in these courses, which cover a range of instruments and styles, from blues appreciation and beginning mountain dulcimer to a new singing ensemble for teenage girls. About twice as many students take private lessons, according to John Boulware, a champion fiddler and longtime instructor at the school who recently has taken on co-administrative duties with Burns.

A new home

The Folk School started in 2009 in a handful of tiny classrooms at Mountain Music, an instrument shop on Dayton Boulevard. Its first series of classes was held at satellite locations on Main Street.

About a year later, the school relocated to a 1,700-square-foot building on Forest Avenue, where it remained for about two and a half years.

When it became clear at the start of the year that the school had outgrown its facilities, Boulware, Burns and fellow co-founder Matt Evans began looking for a new space. Over the next several months, they considered more than a dozen locations on North Market Street, Brainerd Road, Cherokee Boulevard, Broad Street and elsewhere before settling on Rossville Avenue.

Despite having nearly triple the square footage of the school's former home, the new 5,000-square-foot building -- the former location of Ignis Glass Studio -- needs to be renovated to suit the school's purposes, Boulware said.

During his initial walk-through, he said, it was hard to imagine students learning clawhammer banjo techniques in a space still cluttered with glass-blowing equipment.

"I had to mentally strip away the furnaces and everything, and at first I didn't see it," Boulware said. "Now that we're in and doing stuff here, I definitely see a lot more potential than I did at first."

Tuning up

With the equipment now removed, the floor plan is a promising sprawl. An open lobby opens into large kitchen; both host impromptu jams and serve as waiting areas. A massive outdoor hallway serves as a practice space, impromptu performance venue and breezeway to a third, air-conditioned room at the rear of the building.

School staff members said they see a lot of potential in the new space, but achieving that will require some work. Whereas the Forest Avenue building was already subdivided into rooms, the new building's open floor plan has forced instructors to be creative in how they conduct lessons.

"Creating rooms is my first priority right now," Burns said. "We've been compromising a lot and improvising a lot."

The same cacophony that Burns said epitomizes the Folk School's mission has its drawbacks, as acoustic bleed-over from sessions can be problematic for teachers and students.

"You have to concentrate [to study music] because music is a language," said guitar and bass instructor Gordy Nichol, 49, his voice rising to be heard over the background noise.

"We'll have a more quiet atmosphere, once we do the build-out," he added, before closing off a nearby door to mute the background noise.

Local bluegrass and Western swing musician Lou Wamp, an architect, drew up plans in June that would add classrooms, soundproofing and other features. Those designs were approved by the city planning office a couple of weeks ago, Burns said.

The renovations, estimated to cost $48,000, should begin soon with an initial phase that will turn part of the kitchen into a pair of 12-foot by 12-foot rooms. Funding for additions largely is being provided through private donations from local bluegrass musician and philanthropist Fletcher Bright and an anonymous donor, Boulware said.

Burns said future renovations could include a dedicated stage in the breezeway and additional classrooms at the rear of the building.

'About the people stuff'

On Tuesday evening, Vicki Monroe, 45, of Signal Mountain was reading "The Hobbit" on a couch in the kitchen while her daughters, Hannah, 12, and Holly, 10, finished a dual private lesson on fiddle and guitar.

The Monroes first enrolled in classes at the Folk School about a year and a half ago. Hannah and Holly also are participating in the children's old-time string band, a youth ensemble that three weeks ago began its second session of the year.

Some might be bothered by the overlapping noise from the various sessions, but Monroe said she and her daughters enjoy hearing the unexpected during their biweekly visits.

"It's just spontaneous," she said, a plastic bin full of ukuleles lying on the floor next to her feet. "[Hannah and Holly] joke that you never know what kind of music you'll hear when you walk in the door. They just love that."

And as long as students are excited to be there, Burns said, the Folk School is in the right place.

"It's really about the people stuff and the relationship stuff," she said. "That's what really, really matters more than the location or the building. If we can just see more of that going on, that will be good."