Pandemic porch concerts in Brooklyn evolve into a new music school

Over the past two years, a new program has crystallized. Neighbors donated porches. Musician friends and former students pitched in as teachers, paid through a nonprofit Nathanson helped found called Jazz Passengers Music Projects. Pianist Aidan Scrimgeour, who had joined the nightly jam sessions back in 2020, has now become a leader of the nascent porch school.

This spring the group has offered individual lessons on a network of porches throughout the neighborhood. The so-called 5PM Porch Concert Band includes drummers, percussionists, keyboardists, bass, guitar, saxophone, trumpet players and singers. The students range in age from eight to 18. Some also write the songs.

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

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

“I want to be a famous singer when I grow up,” she said. “I haven’t been doing a lot of song writing before I was in this band. It helped me with the song writing side of me and also the performing side of me too.”

Rosetta Serrano is 17 and goes to the Institute for Collaborative Education in Manhattan, where Nathanson used to teach. She plays the bass, and she’s been working with younger students. The porch concerts and lessons have been among “the only things about the pandemic that didn’t make me sad,” she said.

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

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