Beginning March 3, Swallow Hill Music will offer classes in Lowry. The 35-year-old music center is opening a satellite location at Colorado Free University (CFU) where it will offer group classes and private lessons for kids and adults.
It’s never too late to learn an instrument, Executive Director Tom Scharf said. “If you saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and said ‘I want to do that someday,’ today is the day,” he said.
Swallow Hill Music emphasizes experiential learning rather than a conservatory approach, he said. “The experiential approach gets you into the game quickly. Everyone is welcome and there’s no criticism. We get people playing at their first lesson,” Scharf said.
Community is the main focus at Swallow Hill Music. “We provide education and performances, but connecting people is especially important,” Scharf said. “We do music WITH you instead of music AT you. At our concerts, the performers come out to talk afterwards.”
As one of the largest roots (folk) music organizations in the country, Swallow Hill Music has a lot of folks to bring together. More than 5,000 students register each year. Concerts bring in 105,000 visits, including the performances Swallow Hill Music produces at the Botanic Gardens each summer. The nonprofit also runs a music education outreach program to K-12 schools in the area that reaches about 16,000 students. It offers early childhood music education called Little Swallows and Little Mozarts classes for young children.
“Our music outreach ties into the schools’ curriculum, with subject matter like the Civil War and how cowboys lived in the 1800s. Our goal is to get music back into the schools,” Scharf said.
Scharf, a guitar and mandolin player, owned an advertising agency in Denver for 20 years before taking the helm at Swallow Hill Music five years ago. “I took half pay and double hours to do this but I love it,” he said. “I have the best staff on the planet.”
He follows in the footsteps of the dedicated musicians and music lovers who nurtured roots music in Denver and helped it grow for nearly five decades. Swallow Hill Music was born out of the Denver Folklore Center, begun in 1962 by Harry Tuft. The Folklore Center offered instrument sales and repairs, music lessons and concerts. Among the performers there in the 1960s and ’70s were Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal.
But despite the Folklore Center’s world-class offerings, financial challenges threatened to close the doors until a group of visionaries formed the nonprofit Swallow Hill Music Music Association in 1979. The popular music center kept expanding and outgrew three facilities, landing at last in its permanent home at Yale and Broadway. Now the venerable organization is again having growing pains.
“Our financial growth has quadrupled in the last four years and our number of students has doubled,” Scharf said. He compares Swallow Hill Music’s growth during the current depressed economy to the popularity of movies during the Great Depression of the 1930s. “During difficult times people need an inexpensive way to escape. We’re a good alternative to the bars. As a nonprofit, we keep it affordable with support from donations and grants.
“We’re faced with a choice: to find a bigger building or expand to different neighborhoods,” Scharf said. “We decided to go to Lowry because it’s a great place to grow our mission—to reach more people with music, especially children and families.”
To celebrate its official opening, Swallow Hill Music will host an open house from 4-7pm on Thursday, February 27 at CFU, 7653 E. 1st Place. All are welcome. For information about music lessons, classes and prices, visit swallowhillmusic.org, call 303-777-1003, Ext. 2, or email Swallow Hill Music at firstname.lastname@example.org. Swallow Hill Music is headquartered at 71 East Yale Avenue.