Joy of Music School

Music Notes – Newsletter

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Board Member Profile: Michael Combs

Michael Combs never saw it coming. He had attended a few planning sessions for James A. Dick’s proposed Joy of Music School, and as is his nature, Michael asked good, thoughtful questions about how the School would function. But he never expected that at its first official board meeting, back in 1998, Mr. Dick would announce, “Our board president is going to be Michael Combs.”

“I gulped a little bit!” Michael says with a laugh, remembering that evening 20 years ago. “I mean, I was really supportive of Mr. Dick’s idea for the School, and I felt I couldn’t say no. But I was a Professor of Music at the University of Tennessee. I didn’t know anything about being a board president!”

Luckily he was surrounded by many people who did. Martha Weaver, director of development for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, encouraged him to set up board committees, he recalls. Bill Davis Sr., Mr. Dick’s lawyer, helped write the by-laws. CPA Jenny Hines handled most of the financial matters. “One of James Dick’s friends helped us get established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization,” Michael recalls.

Michael served two three-terms and rotated off the board. He came back a few years later as a board member (not the president) and served another six-year term. At the moment he’s in the third year of another six-year run.

Michael is our only current board member who was there at the beginning.

His biggest surprise over the years? “James Dick and the rest of us thought we would just be giving clarinets or violins to kids and showing them how to play,” Michael says. “We didn’t realize what important friends and role models the volunteer teachers would be.”

He notes that Executive Director Frank Graffeo—who joined soon after Michael stepped down as board president—has emphasized character growth as well as musical accomplishment. “He’s created a system where they earn prizes for being on time, bringing their materials and instruments, practicing, and showing kindness and respect to their teacher. All that is built into program now, but it really took us by surprise.”

And Michael’s greatest pleasure? “It’s always been the children,” he says. “I remember when the first one finished at the School and went to UT. He is Preston Sangster. He is a bassoon player, and he got a scholarship. We all turned around and said, ‘Look at what we’ve done!’ Those moments were very, very special for us.”


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The Joy of Performing

Some say Bonnaroo is the pinnacle of musical excitement in these parts. For others it’s the Rossini Festival. Or Big Ears. Or the Pride of the Southland Marching Band.

For one group of kids and their loved ones, it’s hard to beat the thrill of our annual recital.

Come see (and hear) for yourself on Saturday, May 5 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Knoxville. It runs from 2-4 p.m. Pop in for a little or a lot!

Around 65 Joy of Music School students will get up and perform, says Director of Music Education Julie Carter. They’ll be singing and playing practically any instrument you can imagine: piano, guitar, ukulele, violin, cello, saxophone, and more.

This is their big moment to shine. And for attendees, it’s a perfect opportunity to see how much good our School is accomplishing.

Plus! There’s a reception immediately following the recital, with delicious BBQ generously donated (and lovingly prepared) by Renee Sunday and her brother, David Beard.

The Scottish Rite Temple is at 612 16th Street. There’s ample free parking behind it. Turn onto White Ave. and follow the signs to the UT parking garage.


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Mark Your Calendar

Here are a couple of other important upcoming Joy of Music School events you should know about.

Painting for Joy

Tuesday, May 22, 6-8 p.m., Painting with a Twist in Farragut

Bring out your inner artist and support the School. Tickets are $35 and include paints, canvas, instruction, refreshments and raffles. Plus you get to take home your masterpiece.

Swing for Joy 2nd Annual Golf Tournament

Monday, Aug. 27, 9 a.m., Gettysvue Polo, Golf & Country Club

Cost is $100 per player and includes raffles, putting contest, goodie bags, prizes (hole in one wins a Mercedes Benz lease). Sponsorship opportunities available for area businesses.


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A Donor That Really Gets It

CMA Grants Associate Falon Keith
and Frank Graffeo.

“I have never had a more in-depth conversation with a foundation representative,” says Executive Director Frank Graffeo, referring to a fruitful meeting in his office with Tiffany Kerns, Director of Community Outreach for the Country Music Association (CMA) Foundation last fall. “They don’t simply write checks. They direct their funding, time, and energy into specific areas of the School and focus on how, and how much, their support helps.”

The grant we got from the CMA Foundation—a generous $20,000—is designed to help us do a handful of important things, like getting better at measuring the positive effects of our program on the lives of the kids we serve. These include the relationship between kids’ study here and their attendance rates in Knox County Schools. The Foundation money is also helping us get a program for our alumni off the ground. It’s clear the CMA Foundation wants to help us set goals, meet them, and provide the extra resources required to achieve them. That’s a foundation providing foundational support.


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Letter from the Executive Director

Francis Graffeo

I’m teaching a convivial, very talented, 17-yearold singer. Before we met, I was “warned” that he is engaging, has a beautiful voice, but that he also had one frustrating aspect: He does not want to sing in public. If you heard him, you would likely react the way others have. They say, “He’s so wonderful but he’s wasting his talent” and “How can he have so much to offer but not share it?” I’ll admit I had a similar thought before meeting him. I imagined that getting him into the spotlight might be a “project” for me.

But when we finally met, and as our conversation turned to his reluctance, I had a weird experience. Instead of telling him we could find a way to take the first steps out of the wings, the words that came out of my mouth almost shocked me. I told him, “I play the piano almost every day and I shudder at the idea of playing in public.” I definitely did not plan on saying that! What was I thinking? But it’s true. As a conductor, I’ve led hundreds of public performances, no problem. But sitting alone at a keyboard with an audience is a scary thought. I love playing the piano, just at home with my wife and son. I make big fat errors. I play too loudly. Do that in public? No thanks. The fact is, I didn’t realize my student and I shared a genuine basic trait until he gave me the chance to say it out loud.

Music schools have to give recitals, right? We encourage our charges to step up and face the challenge. It’s important. Mostly. Yet there’s something to be said for those who prefer playing or singing for themselves, or their loved ones. The teacher/performer/mentor in me hopes my student will get the courage to step forward and bring all of us to tears with his beautiful voice. But music is also an authentic personal experience. Having a finely honed skill inside oneself is affirming and foundational. The rewards are both public and private.

My student knows he can sing. He wants to get better at it. That’s why he’s here. But he might not take it to the world. If he declines a recital, that’s his business. I will give him all the encouragement I can, and it’s up to him to do with his talent what he wants. While some might think that’s a shame, it’s no reason for shame. It’s legitimate.




Francis Graffeo

Executive Director



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Big Ears, Big Fun

The annual Big Ears music festival bring so much to East Tennessee—and to our School. For the last few years, we’ve been part of the world-renowned festival through its Little Ears program, which provides an opportunity for our students and kids at the Community School of the Arts to engage, witness, cheer and be involved.

Our students Jacob and Joseph even got to perform at the event’s opening ceremony at the Knoxville Visitors Center this year!

The School has also proudly offered up our space for rehearsals. In March we were delighted to welcome the Sai Anantam Ashram Singers, and percussionist Ches Smith, who performed at Big Ears with legendary guitarist Marc Ribot.


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Band of Brothers

Joseph and Jacob

Joseph and Jacob are brothers who perform together, and they do all those things brothers do. “There’s a lot of arguing, a lot of sidetracking,” Joseph says with a laugh. “Whenever we have a deadline, it’s always last-minute. It’s a little crazy.”

But when show time comes, you’d never guess it. They’re poised and polished. This spring they helped kick off the celebrated Big Ears music festival by performing at the opening ceremony. You can see them firsthand at our recital on May 5 at the Scottish Rite Temple.

The Joy of Music School has been lucky to have them both as students for years. Joseph, now 17 and a senior at Bearden High School, started with piano lessons in second grade. Jacob, 16 and a home-schooled sophomore, began a year later with guitar lessons.

These days Joseph mainly sings. His mother, Dawn, remembers how Joseph tip-toed into his early voice lessons. “He was OK with it as long as he didn’t have to sing in public. It’s kind of ironic at this point. He lives for it now.”

When they’re playing together, Jacob typically sings backup and accompanies his brother on guitar. Or ukulele, or mandolin, or banjo. These days he’s comfortable on just about anything with strings. “Most parents use cell phones as leverage,” says Dawn, “but for me it’s guitars. He knows he’s not allowed to do his homework in his room, because he’ll just pick up one of his guitars…”

The brothers enjoy many musical styles, from show tunes to pop to Southern country gospel. Lately Jacob’s been writing some of his own songs. So what’ll they be playing together at this year’s recital? That’s a “government-security- level secret,” says Joseph.

Is that code for “we’re arguing over what to play”? No, no. They’re just planning it as a surprise for their JoMS instructor, Ashley Costerisan.


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