Pandemic porch gigs in Brooklyn turn into new music school

Over the past two years, a new program has crystallized. Neighbors donated porches. Musician friends and alumni participated as teachers, paid through a nonprofit organization Nathanson helped found called Musical projects Jazz Passengers. Pianist Aidan Scrimgeour, who had joined the nightly jam sessions in 2020, has now emerged as a leader of the fledgling porch school.

This spring, the group offered one-on-one lessons on a network of porches across the neighborhood. The so-called 5PM Porch Concert Band includes drummers, percussionists, keyboardists, bass, guitar, saxophone, trumpeters and vocalists. The students are aged 8 to 18. Some also write the songs.

Dozens of students meet once a week with their teachers for private lessons. Their chords and scales float on the lawns and resonate between stately Victorian homes. Then, a second night a week, they meet in the backyard of a restaurant called Jalsa on Coney Island Avenue to practice as a band.

Djahlisa Fenelon, 13 and in 8th grade at Mark Twain College, was looking for a way to take singing lessons, but didn’t want to take them over Zoom. Porch lessons gave her the chance to practice both her singing and songwriting skills, in person.

“I want to be a famous singer when I grow up,” she said. “I didn’t write a lot of songs before I was in this band. It helped with the songwriting side of me and also the performing side of me too.

Rosetta Serrano is 17 and attends the Institute for Collaborative Education in Manhattan, where Nathanson taught. She plays bass and works with younger students. Concerts and classes on the porch were among “the only things about the pandemic that didn’t make me sad,” she said.

“Obviously it wasn’t easy being a teenager in a pandemic, it wasn’t easy being anybody in a pandemic,” Serrano said. “So to see people playing together was really amazing.”

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