Be the Community You Wish Existed

Monica Rizzio on the Ukelele. Photo by Beth Dunn.

Monica Rizzio on the Ukelele. Photo by Beth Dunn.

“Be the priest; build the church. Essentially, if you can make the movement happen through your passion, then good things might follow.”

Julien Smith and Chris Brogan authors of Trust Agents

I’ve been spending a little bit of time lately with a bunch of local musicians that really embody the quote above. I’d like to tell you a little about them, and why you might care.

Who are these people?

The name of the band is Tripping Lily.

OK, so sure, I like the music. A lot. And sure, the members of the band — Monica Rizzio, Demetrius Becrelis, Alex Becrelis, and Laird Boles — are some of the nicest people going.

But what really impresses me is the community they’ve built around themselves and their music.

Here’s the rundown:

  1. They’re on Facebook and MySpace, which most bands are these days. So that’s good, but pretty normal.
  2. They actively use those platforms to promote their events and CDs, which fewer bands do effectively, but still, this is not terribly uncommon.
  3. They teach musical lessons to young people and adults, which, again, is not that rare, but their instruments are things like mandolins, ukeleles, fiddles, banjos, and such, which makes them a bit unique, especially here on Cape Cod.
  4. They now teach these lessons in a beautifully appointed, welcoming space that is right on the main street of town. (This is where it starts to be really cool.)
  5. They just opened a shop on these premises, specializing in ukeleles, and called The UkeHead.

So what?

I’ll tell you so what.

They fill a need that has nothing to do with ukeleles

When I was a young musician (I played the euphonium. don’t ask.) I spent a lot of time hiding out in the band room of my middle school. Middle school was tough for me, incredibly tough, but I always knew I could seek refuge in the band room.  Mr. Todd, our band director, always let me hang out there for as long as I wanted — even when it was clear that I was skipping class because I was having a bad day.

Now that the arts are getting cut and even eliminated in public schools, I bet that it’s really hard to find that sanctuary.  Music teachers around here have to split their time between several different schools, so they are always on the move.  It must be hard to build the same kind of trust and confidence that I felt in my relationship with Mr. Todd.

I can’t imagine what my life in middle school would have been like without him, if he had not been in that band room whenever I needed to find him.

I talked to Demetri about this briefly at the UkeHead opening today, and I saw his eyes light up in recognition.  That’s a big part of what they are offering the kids they teach in their shop. It’s unstated, but it’s there. And I wouldn’t exactly call that particular aspect of their operations a profit center. I’d call it a drop-in center. Also known as community.

The UkeHead

Now about the UkeHead shop itself: a retail shop specializing in ukeleles. Huh.  I seriously doubt that they conducted any sort of a market survey before they opened up this shop, determined that what this market really needed was a purveyor of fine, tiny stringed instruments, and then set about crushing the competition.

They love ukes. They built their church. The parish is growing.

At the store’s grand opening this weekend, there were old men walking in, cradling their 1920’s-era ukeleles like babies.  There were babies (OK, very small children), picking ukes off of the shop wall and learning their first chords.  There were teenagers, salivating over the higher-end models of ukeleles, all gorgeous wood marquetry and mother-of-pearl inlay.

Be a Geek

The moral, I think, is that it is exceedingly good to be a geek. Be a geek for whatever it is that you get geeky for.  Quilting. Carpentry. Ukeleles. It doesn’t matter. But don’t be a geek about it in the old way, the kind where you hide it in your basement, call it a “hobby,” and exclude it from the center of your life, from what you consider your “real” life.  Let your passion come through, and people will respond.

What are you a geek for?

1 Thought.

  1. Beth! Wonderful post. I saw these guys at the Naukabout festival in Falmouth a few weeks ago and loved them. You could really feel their passion, and that above all draws me to musicians.

    I’m a geek for many things. (A competent generalist, I think, with few specialties.) Dogs, open spaces, books, farming, natural resources, fish, honeybees, taking and enjoying photos, baking, folk music (though I play nothing)…I could go on and on. Thank you for the reminder that all of these things can enjoyed as part of a community and not just during my “alone time.” Strong communities and friendships are fine, fine things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *