In a few short months, fans of Caffè Lena will be able to do more than just enjoy music at the famous Saratoga Springs folk venue. They’ll be able to learn it there, too. saratoga living has learned that Saratoga’s signature intimate performance space—where legends such as Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco performed before they were big stars—will open its own Caffè Lena School of Music for children ages 7-12. This new school of music will specialize in folk music, offering lessons in guitar, fiddle and ukulele starting on March 10.
“This is all tied into Lena’s 60th anniversary this year,” says Vivian Nesbitt, who will be running the soon-to-be-opened music school. “We’re passing the torch, so to speak, through a music school, and inviting kids to learn the time-honored skill of playing ukulele, guitar and fiddle, and playing them all together.”
The Caffè Lena School of Music will have a folksy vibe with a focus on group playing, learning from others and building a musical community. Regular classes will meet every Tuesday from 3:45pm – 5pm, and will be divided between lesson time with the instructors—Oona Grady (fiddle), James Gascoyne (guitar) and Peter Pashoukos (ukulele)—and group time with all students playing together on their instruments. There will also be a new Family Jam Session series (an opportunity for parents to get in on the music-learning experience) open to students and their parents every Saturday from 10:30am to noon. “Making and enjoying music together is baked into our DNA, and it’s one of the things that links generations,” says Lena’s Executive Director Sarah Craig. “While that used to happen naturally, these days we have to intentionally put instruments in the hands of kids and get them playing and singing together. That’s the intention of the Caffè Lena School of Music. It’s not about cultivating the next star of stage and screen—it’s about cultivating grassroots community support for handmade music.”
Classes at the school will be quite affordable: $70 for 10 weeks of lessons on one of the 3 instruments. Also, students that are on the Saratoga Springs City School District’s school lunch program will be eligible for full scholarships for lessons. Nesbitt says that Caffè Lena is even willing to procure instruments for students who can’t afford them. “The purpose of this program is that it’s available to students, regardless of income,” she says.
As an accomplished actress, musician and writer, Nesbitt was a natural fit to lead the nascent music school. Born in Washington, DC, she spent many years in Albuquerque, NM, where she owned and operated an acting school and, over the years, scored small roles in smash hit series such as Breaking Bad, Law & Order: SVU and The Night Shift. In 2018, Nesbitt moved to the Spa City to be closer to her mother, who lives about 40 minutes away in Melrose, NY, and currently runs a nationally syndicated public radio program about songwriting with her husband, John Dillon, called Art of the Song. Nesbitt and Dillon also sometimes do their radio show at Caffè Lena, and that’s how Nesbitt got tapped to lead the school. “The idea of the school has been in the works for a little while,” she says. “Running the acting school I learned about structure, and I’ve just been helping to get the pieces in place.”
The Caffè Lena School of Music will start out offering about 16 slots in all for guitar, fiddle and ukulele. However, Nesbitt says that the Caffè already has its eyes on expanding the school to include mandolin, banjo and other instruments in the near future, as well as potentially adding adult students to the roster. “[Caffè Lena] has a vision for ensuring the future of folk music as we move into the 60th anniversary,” says Nesbitt. “This is about developing the next generation of music-lovers and concertgoers through this incredible resource that we have here in Saratoga.”