As part of its 60th anniversary celebration and just a handful of months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck Saratoga, Caffè Lena announced plans to open a music school (generously funded by recent Saratoga Living cover stars Kevin and Claudia Bright). The idea was simple: to teach area kids how to play the guitar, fiddle and ukulele at the historic folk venue.
Though Lena has been one of the lone venues in the Capital Region to be deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 crisis, the music school has existed virtually since lockdown, and now six months in, has proven to be one of the venue’s most popular innovations. “With people cooped up and needing a positive outlet, especially school kids, the timing turned out to be unexpectedly good,” says Vivian Nesbitt, coordinator at the Caffé Lena School of Music.
To keep the community vibe alive—even online—students are taught in a group setting, with Saratoga musicians Oona Grady and James Gascoyne serving as teachers. (Offerings have since been expanded to include the tin whistle and banjo.) This fall, the virtual music school program will be expanded substantially, with four-week group lessons offered for adults and programs drawing students and teachers from beyond Saratoga and the Capital Region. Two-time Grammy Award winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer have been added to the music school’s faculty for the fall session; as have Beacon-based fiddler/banjoist Bruce Molsky; New York City blues guitarist Guy Davis; California songwriter Dan Navarro; and Virginia-based singer Siobhan Quinn (find a complete list of classes and their respective teachers here).
“We believe in the power of music to get us through the hard times,” says Nesbitt. “Zoom is not what we had in mind when we launched the School of Music, but it won’t be long before these students are on stage in front of a live audience. Our dream is that the next generation of folk musicians will be born out of this crisis.”
With fees included, a four-week class costs about $150. The venue is now offering scholarships for the classes, which begin on September 15.