I believe in the importance of community, so much so that I spend many hours doing what I can to be a positive presence in my little town. And I’m not alone.
My family lives in a lovely village, surrounded by horse farms and rolling hills, in rural Tennessee. Only 30 miles from Nashville, it has recently become a mecca for country stars and transplanted L.A. studio musicians, but it is also a town in which more than 30% of the children at the local K-8 school receive free or reduced-price lunches.
In this town, people with lots of money co-exist naturally with those who have next to none, with virtually no sense of class distinction. They share tables at the Country Boy restaurant and dance the two-step at the annual Rocky Top dance. And they contribute, as coaches, meals-on-wheels drivers, and volunteer firemen.
There’s a group of fellows who show classic movies at our Lawnchair Theater, where every Friday and Saturday night, spring through fall, lawnchairs and blankets are spread over the grass. Kids run around, while parents catch up with each other and then sit quietly together under a veil of stars. In October, these same men host a free haunted woods walk, and in December they decorate the downtown with over a million Christmas lights.
There is a group called Kids On Stage that hosts a Summer Arts Academy each year. Up to 300 local children study instruments, acting, art, photography and other creative disciplines. The teachers, working professionals in their artistic fields, give their time at far below their normal weekly pay. No child is turned away because they can’t afford it. Some parents send in double their children’s tuition fees, and local businesses kick in for scholarships, as well.
Recently, I helped plan a free summer concert series, featuring musicians who make their homes in Leiper’s Fork. Many of them work in studios, tour with artists like Vince Gill and John Prine, or write hit songs. You might think they wouldn’t have the time or inclination to rehearse and put on shows for the locals. Yet upon being asked, none said no.
A production designer will contribute lights. A soundman will run sound. A graphic designer will make posters. Nobody gets paid, and nobody cares to. They do it because there’s a sense of pride, of ownership, in doing something by the community, for the community.
And me? I, who in a former life wrote and sang jingles for companies like McDonald’s and Disney, I who wrote music for large theater productions in a major American city—now happily teach at Summer Academy, play the piano for school plays, and go on the occasional class field trip. Because I see in my children and in the children around me the future of our community. And in this little corner of the world, the future is a beautiful thing to behold.
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