Interview with Elena DeLisle-Perry
Every once in a while, we get one of those amazing Seattle sunsets. You know the kind, where the whole sky is painted orange and the spattering of clouds adds a depth that makes it even more mind boggling. Elena DeLisle-Perry is like that. The depth of her understanding of music is hard to grasp. Her compassion and connections with people in the community leave me feeling inadequate. We all enjoy being a contribution, but too often, our own needs get in the way. Not Elena. She’s found a way to be a contribution and make a difference, and make money, all at the same time. Elena is the type of business owner that caused me to start the urbanspending.com blog to begin with.
A warm, intelligent woman in her mid-thirties, I could tell she has plenty of “mom experience”, and from the look of things, making time for her family is something she takes seriously. While her young son patiently waited, we sat in The Bounty on 15th and talked.
“I love music so much that it can be infectious.” She tells me. She started on her career path with a job at the Santa Rosa conservatory of music, her mentor who taught her how to teach piano had a PhD in piano pedagogy. Who’s even heard of that? I didn’t even know what pedagogy was until I was in my late 30’s. (in case you’re still wondering…from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pedagogy
noun \ˈpe-də-ˌgō-jē also -ˌgä-,especially British -ˌgä-gē\
: the art, science, or profession of teaching)
Ever since, Elena’s career fell straight into place. These days, she teaches dozens of families how to make music part of their life, part of their soul, and part of their daily experience. Besides teaching guitar and piano, with a heavy emphasis on fingerpicking, bluegrass, Folk guitar, and blues, Elena has also been teaching the Music Together classes for the past 10 years and currently has 4 classes going on at the Spartan Rec Center. It must be a popular class, because Elena currently has a waiting list.
What makes it unique is the parent involvement. The grown-ups keep the rhythm, allowing the kids, newborn to 5 years old, to explore how the music calls to them. Some rock their bodies, others rock the egg shakers, but everyone participates.
“The kids sing at home, I hear that a lot. That’s what this is all about, singing at home and creating more music and more joy in the lives of people.”
But wait, there’s more. How about the benefit concert Elena is helping to put on for the Cascade Community School student, Ahmie, who has an aggressive form of cancer and needs to travel to Texas to consult with a surgeon who might be able to save her? http://shoreline.patch.com/groups/events/p/benefit-concert-for-shoreline-girl-suffering-an-aggressive-cancer
Then there’s her work as the music coordinator for the Ronald bog art festival.
Elena DeLisle-Perry isn’t just a music teacher, she’s an inspiration. Now, on to her passion project. Right, those other things, those are her passion too, it’s music, it’s art. This is what urbanspending.com is about, it’s about the art of self-employment. It’s about demonstrating how people in the community who work for themselves, or who own businesses, are beautiful to watch. Can you see the beauty in a Picasso? I can see the beauty in a self-employed carpenter who does quality work and takes time to make sure customers have a great experience. It’s an art form, isn’t it?
Okay, back to our local hero of the moment, DeLisle-Perry. Tierra Caliente, Mexico is a place you may only have heard of if you know Paul Anastasio, Elena, or Juan Reynoso. For the past 4 years, Elena has been closely working with Paul Anastasio, who is one of the most well respected and most experienced violinists around. He’s been playing since he was 9 and is now in his 60’s. Paul spent the past 10 years documenting and reproducing folk music from Tierra Caliente which was in danger of dying out. Now it is saved. Elena has been learning the backup guitar part, which is not only a wonderful opportunity for her to work with a master musician, but also puts her in the unique position of being able to carry on a long tradition of music from Mexico.
She tells me about the parents who come to her class. “Many of them feel they can’t sing. There’s a cultural thing where people think if they’re not on American idol, they shouldn’t sing, but music is like talking and walking; it’s part of being human.”
Although Elena does have some private students, because of her commitment to her family, she’s been waiting until her youngest was in school to fully embrace the individual teaching role. That day is fast approaching, so if you’ve been thinking about learning guitar, banjo, or piano, it might be a good idea to get on her waiting list. Not only is this an opportunity to learn from someone who has tremendous experience, but supporting Elena in teaching music is a gift to the community.
What Elena is doing is essential to the survival of our community as the joyful and inspiring place it is. Someone has to lead a movement. Elena is doing that, and she needs our support. She directly impacts over 70 Shoreline kids, their families, and countless others with her passion for teaching. Indirectly, she touches communities on an international scale with her love of the Tierra Caliente music and by continuing to help Paul Anastasio share his lifelong practice with us. Compare this to so many of the music teachers in the world who simply offer themselves up as a commodity. It’s one thing to teach guitar as a way to make money, but it’s entirely another to teach it as a way to continue your life’s mission of bringing joy, music, and happiness to people’s lives. Who would you rather learn from?
I had a chance to speak to Paul Anastasio to see how he sees Elena’s role in our city. He says “if you can snag them early, then some of them might play music to them all their lives.”
I asked him why it mattered. Both his folks played music, his dad was going to be a professional oboist and was on a scholarship until WW2 started and when he came out, he decided to become an anthropology professor.
“Although he didn’t play professionally, he played as an avid amateur. It’s an avenue of self-expression, It’s an outlet for feelings. As with any art, it’s a release, a retreat from the cares of the ‘regular’ world. You can just enjoy playing music in its solace and it’s also a form of communication. As Elena turns these kids on to music, it’s all good stuff because it puts it into their brain at an early age. They’ve discovered that kids who have studied music before 12, later in life, when they hear music, giant areas of their brain light up. It makes a permanent change in the brain.
With the amount of time you put into becoming a musician, you could be a brain surgeon. The difference is that when you screw up as a musician, all that happens is people don’t buy your CDs. “
I know I’m inspired by her. Maybe it’s easier to see the “business as art” model with Elena because it’s music, but the reality is all businesses feel like this to the owner. It’s a dance of getting the customers, keeping the customers, growing the program, doing the “work” of the business, and hopefully, feeling completely fulfilled.
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For more information on Elena, you can visit her website at http://www.elenadelisle.com/
Her next two events in Shoreline are:
January 31st at The Bounty in Shoreline: Violin Music of Tierra Caliente Mexico, with Paul Anastasio and The Onlies 7:00-9:00
Saturday February 8th at a Benefit for Ahmie, a 14 year old girl struggling with an aggresive cancer.
Please come out to support her family! Suggested donation $10-$20 at the door but no one will be turned away. Elena will be playing at this event with Hot Lands Trio, WhistlePig AND Toulooloo. There will also be a Belly Dance troup, a Celtic ensemble, chair massage, a raffle, ect.
At “The Bounty” on 15th ave in Shoreline
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