I can’t think of a better way to start our MJM blog than answering the question, “Mister John, why are you expanding into Atlanta?” Honestly, it’s a question I’ve asked myself many times, especially considering how hard it has been/continues to be operating in a pandemic world.
Before we had ever heard of this Covid thing, I had just been accepted into 10KSB, a program through Goldman Sachs that’s all about empowering small-business owners as they think about business growth and development. I had all kinds of ideas… and then in the middle of the program, everything shut down. No more group guitar classes, no more kids choir, and especially no more early childhood mommy-and-me baby music classes. We galvanized; through the graciousness of our patrons, we were able to put together digital content for our students, move to ZOOM classes and lessons, and even virtual Open Mics. And eventually, we were able to do in-person, outdoor, socially-distanced classes. But there wasn’t enough enrollment (aka revenue) for me to keep teaching AND to keep my teachers (at the time our staff was much smaller – only Lilly, Diego, and Heather were making their livings at the studio). I had to make two choices: 1. Keep my teachers or keep my income AND 2. Keep the studio or keep my apartment. I chose my teachers and the studio. I packed all of my personal belongings up and stored them in the basement of the studio, I gave all the classes to Lilly and Diego, and Heather (mostly), and I moved down to Atlanta to be with my family. During that time, I made a DIY-documentary about my parents’ lives, bought a bus (that’s its own blog post), and ran daily as a reprieve from the incessant worrying. Eventually, I decided to try to offer some baby music classes in Atlanta – because I wanted some income of my own and because I missed teaching. I met up with Lisa at Urban Pie (I had seen the Pride flags up on their patio and had a hunch that this might be a good partnership) and we arranged for me to try a first session. It was a small but mighty group and it grew over the course of the session. Then a little more over the course of the year. Then I realized that if I was going back to Philly at some point, I would need a teacher to hold down the fort for our Atlanta families while I was away rebuilding our Philly audience.
I could have shut down the Atlanta classes – at the time I only had about 20 families in attendance over one day of classes. But then I thought about our kids, Nina and Teddy and Lawson and Julia… shutting it down wasn’t an option. And the moment Ashley came in to meet about the job, I knew I had found someone special. She was from the theatre world just like me, she’s a multi-instrumentalist, and she had just had her own little one so everything we were doing was specifically of interest to her as she watched her daughter respond to our programming. The glass slipper fit so perfectly.
But even without Ashley, in starting up again in Atlanta, I discovered that there are wonderful families all over our country and world that deserve high-quality, thoughtful programming for their little ones. I’m not wanting to bring just another baby music class to Atlanta; I want to do what we’ve done in Philadelphia – create a wide, wonderful, musical community that’s connected through empathy, compassion, and emotional-vulnerability, and that’s rooted in inclusivity, kindness, and a genuine concern for the well-being of ALL. And if that begins with baby music classes, so be it, Atlanta!