Enjoying Our Musical Neighbors at Frank Hamilton School

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Neighbors. They might be friends, family, people who live near you, and people you work alongside of. When you live in a neighborhood, you might know some of the people who live or work near you, but you don’t know all of them. Legacy Park, where Compassionate Atlanta’s offices are located, is really like its own neighborhood, its own little nook tucked away in Decatur.  

Recently, Leanne Rubinstein and I went across the way in Legacy Park to get to know one of our neighbors–the people at Frank Hamilton School of Music.

Frank Hamilton School is a school for music lovers of all ages and abilities. You know this is going to be a really fun place to take music classes when you see their  school slogan: “Come play with us!” There are a variety of classes you can take including banjo, guitar, fiddle, harmonica, mandolin, and many more. Some classes focus on Old Time music while others focus on bluegrass–and in case you didn’t know, these two genres are not the  same! Who wouldn’t want to take classes with cool titles like “Coffeehouse Classics,” “Sing Your Heart Out,” “Old Time Dance Band,” “Irish Fiddle Styles,” and “Intro to Fingerpicking the Blues on Acoustic Guitar.” Evening classes are offered Monday-Thursday and daytime classes are offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Frank Hamilton is a folk music legend in his own right.

He first started teaching music way back in 1957 in Chicago. He was a cofounder and the first teacher at the famous Old Town School of Folk Music which is still going strong today. Even back then, Frank Hamilton  wanted to use music as a way of bringing people of all ages, abilities, races, and backgrounds together.

After teaching at the Chicago school for several years, Hamilton moved on and spent many years living in California and traveling the country. Eventually, he moved permanently to Atlanta in 1985 with his new  wife who worked for Delta Airlines. After his beloved wife passed in 2014, Frank Hamilton along with Bob Bakert founded Frank Hamilton School in 2015. Hamilton brought the vision he had for the Old Town School of Folk Music to the ATL, creating a community that was committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Frank knew all about starting a school from the bottom up.  Originally holding classes at Epworth Methodist Church, the school started small with five teachers and about 50 or so students. The school later moved to Oakhurst Baptist Church where they were holding classes three nights a week. Oakhurst Baptist Church is where they were meeting when the pandemic broke out and all classes went virtual. Although meeting on Zoom is better than not meeting at all, everyone missed the community they found when gathering in person.  But that led to the opportunity to move the school to the Gillespie Building in Legacy Park in Decatur. Now they have their own space which includes several classrooms, a group meeting space, a small library, and office space. This has allowed the school to  offer classes throughout the week and during the day as well as the evening.

Currently the school averages about 120 students each term. There are over twenty teachers at the school including Frank Hamilton himself! Terms last for eight weeks and include some classes that continue from the previous level and some classes that are standalone classes. At the end of each term the school hosts a showcase for students to exhibit what they have learned. All students of all ability levels are celebrated.

So what makes this school unique? According to Maura Nicholson, who started out as a student and is now the director of the school, it is the group dynamic. It’s about playing with others and having a lot of fun. One way the Frank Hamilton School makes this happen is through what the school calls “Second Half.” The classes are  the “first half” of the lesson, and after class students and teachers meet all together to do music together – a jam session, a singalong –whatever the group wants to do. Everyone is welcome to join the fun and participate however they wish–all instruments, all ages, all abilities. This is all by design. They want to create community, a place where everyone feels they belong.

Frank Hamilton is a pretty awesome  person. It was an honor to get to meet him and listen to him talk about the school in his storyteller’s voice. He is not only a talented musician, but he is also a kind, genuine, inclusive human being who treats everyone with respect. He has a heart for people who love music as much as he does. But it’s more than that. He has a servant’s heart that is full of compassion for others. Frank explained his desire to make sure that “everybody who comes in here is automatically a musician, even if you are just a beginner, because you have a love for music that makes you a musician. Each and every student here is important to us for their development. Our compassion carries over to caring for each student who comes in our doors.

Our motto here at Compassionate Atlanta is “Let compassion be our compass.” And that is exactly what Frank Hamilton and the Frank Hamilton School are all about: neighbors getting to know each other, helping each other, working with each other, enjoying each other, showing compassion to each other – all through the common bond of music.

The Takeaways:

Celebrate:

  1. Frank and his staff are really compassionate, friendly, and warm.
  2. This school creates a welcoming, accepting community.
  3. They extend the love of music to everyone regardless of skill or talent level.
  4. The building is wheelchair accessible inside and out.
  5. Frank Hamilton School now has its own building in Legacy Park in Decatur.

Educate:

  1. There are several steps at the front of the building. The school has placed a small ramp at each step.
  2. Free parking at Legacy Park is available but somewhat limited.  There are only a couple of handicapped parking spaces and these are not directly adjacent to the Gillespie Building which houses Frank Hamilton School.

Jimmy Freels
Community Outreach Associate
Compassionate Atlanta
http://jimmyfreels.com

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