'Home to the Arts'
Cleveland Heights calls itself “Home to the Arts.” All the reading I’ve done about the city shows that this has always been true for at least a century, possibly because of its proximity to Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra; the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Music School Settlement; the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Cleveland Play House; and others of the city’s great arts institutions that began in the early 1900s—and the fact that many of those organizations’ participants lived in Cleveland Heights.
From the time I started kindergarten at Coventry Elementary School and all the way through Heights High, there were always children of Orchestra members, of CIA and CIM instructors, and of others in my classes. And most of my own training took place right here as well.
After a year of piano and theory at the Settlement, I started guitar lessons at the age of 7 at Motter’s Music, which now does business in Lyndhurst, but was then located on Coventry Road (or what became known as “Coventry Village,” probably as a way to justify all the hippies there—by equating it with Greenwich Village—in an attempt to not scare away adults from other suburbs who might visit and shop in the late 1960s and ‘70s, and maybe even attract tourists and curiosity seekers).
At that time, during the mid-1950s, the only guitar teacher at Motter’s was an older man named Mr. Galucci, a cello teacher who also played guitar. Most music stores would not have employed dedicated guitar teachers at that time. A fact that many of my generation may have forgotten and most younger people have never known is that playing guitar in rock bands was not considered cool during the 1950s. It was an oddball, outsider thing. (Playing classical guitar was also a bit odd, but unlike pop music it was, at least, respected.)
So when I took my guitar to Coventry Elementary School every day, it was not to show off (because, in reality, the opposite was true); it was to spend every recess and lunch hour practicing. And when I pantomimed an Elvis Presley song for a whole-school talent show, when I was in fourth grade, most of the kids sat there looking confused, but most of the teachers were clearly horrified, outraged and disgusted, which, as I’ve mentioned in this space before, thrilled me, and confirmed (to me) that I was on the right path.
By the sixth grade, the school’s music teacher was pulling me out of class to go accompany some other class in performances of songs like “Cielito Lindo.” It was a trade-off: I wasn’t particularly happy that my guitar-playing was becoming acceptable to adults, but, on the other hand, I was getting out of classes.
Roosevelt Junior High was much the same. At another all-school talent show, I performed a rock song with a couple of other guys—this time actually playing—and, again, a lot of the teachers hated it. I remember, especially, a teacher that I liked making terrible faces, sadly shaking his head and stopping just short of holding his ears while we were playing.
I also sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” with three other kids for a Memorial Day assembly at Roosevelt when I was in eighth grade. The teachers liked that better, probably because the music was pretty and soft, and because they weren’t listening closely enough to the words to figure out it was an anti-war protest song.
Heights High provided more opportunities. I often talk about how the Heights Choir saved my life. It also gave me many chances to both experiment musically and to perform in a variety of musical styles. I took a great music theory class there. Heights High hosted an after-school folk music club back then. And my rock band played for a couple of school dances.
The significant point is that whether or not all these Heights schools and teachers liked or appreciated what I was doing, they allowed me—and many other musicians and visual artists—to do them, and actually gave us opportunities to do them. And that was no small thing. Because a lot of us are still doing them.
Cleveland Heights native and resident David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His '60s-style folk group Long Road performs at the Music Box Supper Club on March 18.