Goodnight, Irene…

I was a student in the Frank Hamilton School’s first Guitar 2 class, taught by Frank himself, in October, 2015. I had been teaching Suzuki violin and experimenting with classical guitar, and the Next Door description of the school sounded like it might be a good place to explore non-classical guitar.

I’d never heard of Frank Hamilton, or the Atlanta Friends of Folk Music, who’d offered their support to Frank and Bob Bakert when they conceived the idea of the school early that year. But sitting among those first 4 classes of adults in the basement of a church playing music and singing together was a revelation; when they asked for volunteers, I signed up.

Just because I wanted to see this amazing thing make it.

That was all. I had no intention, or inkling, that the fits and starts and changes involved in a budding non-profit would lead to my becoming the Director the following February. When our first location changed hands we moved to Oakhurst Baptist; we applied for and received our 501(c)3 status and started a membership program. For a year I spent weekends joining the teachers on stages at festivals and community events (there had to be one girl on stage!), and weekdays setting up systems and spreadsheets, hashing out curriculum and learning about PayPal and MailChimp and the difference between Bluegrass and Old Time. We added people to the Board, we added a second, then a third night of classes, we grew from 30-something students to, eventually, over 100.

Every person working on the premises that first year was a volunteer. Frank drew a crowd who were happy to help; students told friends, teachers told friends, and kind and generous people came together to grow a school from nothing.

I love creating foundations. That’s in place now. While sheltering has slowed things down, our teachers didn’t miss a beat shifting to Zoom for classes. When it’s safe to gather 50 people in a room to sing and play again, the school will be in a position to continue growing and changing.

So it’s time for me to bow out, and do some growing and changing of my own. I’ve been grateful throughout this crazy, wild ride to have worked with some wonderful people and great musicians. I’ve learned some beautiful tunes, and a few I, well, maybe don’t need to hear again (you know who you are, Smoky Mountains!).

But one lovely song that Frank sings so beautifully will always jog sweet memories of the Frank Hamilton School… Goodnight, Irene.

With love —
Shelley Satonin-Hershkovits