Eventually, it came down to a short note taped on the door one morning in June, a notification of lease violation. The school was given 10 days to move out. “At the end of the day, it turned out that we never should have been there and we never should have signed that lease,” said Burns. “So we moved out and had to figure things out pretty quickly as far as what to do next.”
Instead of lying down and feeling sorry for themselves, the Folk School folks got to work on finding the right location, while still sending individual teachers out to homes to teach their students and organizing group jams in the park for kids. They eventually settled on the space the school currently occupies. “We didn’t want to take forever,” said Dean Arnold, executive director of the Folk School. “This [place] doesn’t have some of the benefits [of Rossville Avenue] like the storefront, but this is a nice facility that’s really set up for teaching.”
And it’s turned out to be a great place to be headquartered, he said. “It’s kinda weird. Everyone said, ‘You went to a business park?’ Yes, we did, and it’s turning out that we have a lot of great neighbors wanting to help us out. Plus, the Raines Group is a great landlord to have, so we’re very happy with that relationship we have there.”
The new location opened for business on September 1, and the school has been working to get back to normal ever since. Its individual and group classes are back on track, including sessions on instruments from banjos to dulcimers. More programs are getting off the ground, too. One in particular has Dean Arnold excited—the Mandolin Orchestra. It’s just what you’d expect from a normal stringed orchestra, except with the mando-versions of every instrument. The violin’s counterpart, the mandolin, is the famous member of the family, but the viola has the mandola, the cello has the mandocello, and the bass has the mandobass.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time but I didn’t have the time,” Arnold explained. “I just joined the Folk School as the executive director [after years as a teacher] about a month ago, so now it’s my job to not only think about things like that but actually try to pull them off.”
The inspiration came through a friend in the Atlanta Mandolin Orchestra, one of the most well respected in the country. He came to the Folk School for a seminar recently, and the idea grew from there. “Right now, we’re just calling it Mandolin Club, so it’s not as serious,” joked Burns. However, they are already setting lofty goals for themselves.
“Tentatively—I mean, this is really ambitious after two weeks—but tentatively we’re planning on putting on a concert jointly with the Atlanta Mandolin Orchestra, and I’m being real aggressive in saying this so I might have to back off a bit, but hopefully by spring we’ll be able to find a venue here in town and put on a performance,” said Arnold. “If we don’t show well, I can tell you it’ll at least be worth the price of a ticket to see the Atlanta Mandolin Orchestra.”
While Folk School leaders continue to strive to find more ways to expand, Christie Burns remains driven by a desire to see the public’s view of music changed at a cultural level. “I hope to live until 110…I hope I live to find myself in a world where everyone plays music all the time and really thrives on it,” said Burns. “Right now, I can confidently tell you that I get out of bed and everything I do is try to make the world more like that—to eliminate any sense of exclusion, where music is here and you are not there. That’s all big idealism talk, but it’s what drives me.”
Next time you’re driving down Mountain Creek Road, don’t just pass by Four Squares and assume it’s your average business park. Stop in and talk to Christie Burns or Dean Arnold and you might just learn a thing or two about folk music. If you can’t find the school in the business park—just follow the sounds of banjos, dulcimers and mandolins.
The Folk School of Chattanooga is sponsoring “Sacred Harp Singing”, 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17. St. Elmo Fire Hall, 4501 St. Elmo Ave.
Folk School of Chattanooga, 1200 Mountain Creek Rd., #130. (423) 827-8906. Website: chattanoogafolk.com