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April 08, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, April 08, 2005

Draper's fallout Draper's fallout (April 08, 2005)

Former music instructors search for venues, ways to retain students

by Sue Dremann

When Gil Draper closed the doors to his music store at the beginning of March, nearly a dozen music teachers were left without a venue for teaching local students.

The venerable California Avenue store's closing has sent many of its teachers scrambling, according to Kent Mikasa of Mountain View, who taught brass instruments. He specialized in jazz and classical trumpet at Draper's Music Center for nearly 24 years.

"Draper's was my second home," Mikasa said.

Since the 38-year-old store closed, Mikasa has been teaching his former Draper's students out of his home. The store was a good place to pick up new students. With that source gone, Mikasa is putting out feelers at Palo Alto churches and relying on parents of some of his students, who are also keeping an eye out for him.

The Palo Alto school district keeps a list of all private music teachers in the area, and Mikasa hopes to pick up some students in that manner. Other teachers in San Francisco and the East Bay, however, won't be so lucky. They will also lose many of their former Draper's students, who may be unwilling or unable to travel long distances for a trombone or violin lesson, he said.

"For those from outlying areas, it's a sad situation. The store was such a nice location for students," he said

"I don't blame Gil one bit," Mikasa added. "It's unfortunate no one was able to purchase the place. It was the rent. He had a half-dozen people interested in buying the store. They heard the rent rates and didn't think they could make a go of it."

Draper could not be reached for comment on the matter.

Music is Mikasa's life. He performs professionally and has also, for the last 20 years, worked as a music aide in Palo Alto schools. But the impact on Palo Alto students is what concerns him.

"I teach at Jordan Middle School, JLS and Paly. I talk to teachers there, and they ask, 'Where will kids get valve oil and reeds in Palo Alto? They'll have to go to Mountain View and outside the city." (please see sidebar on the current Peninsula music-store scene)

Fremont resident Don Couch, who taught tuba, trombone and beginning trumpet at Draper's, has retained some of his students, but conceded that he's lost a few who find the commute too much of a hassle. In the past 12 years, Couch has bounced from one Palo Alto music store to another, as places have closed their tutoring programs.

"I started at Swain's, then at Carnes Piano; six or seven years ago, I went to Draper's. It's like following a bouncing ball," said Couch, a professional trombonist.

Couch is seeking to return to Palo Alto, scouting out sites at churches and synagogues. One student with his own business in a large facility near San Antonio Road is also trying to set him up in a space.

Palo Alto's school district has one of the finest music programs, Couch said, and losing the nearby wealth of local music teachers will affect the schools, as well.

Couch also sees the loss of Draper's impacting the local economy, as families would regularly shop at nearby establishments.

"It's a commercial loss to Palo Alto and to California Avenue. It created a lot of foot traffic," Couch said. "There were five studios, and every studio was active -- 30 families per day."

Local resident Carolyn Williams said she always ran errands at local stores when taking her son, Max Keeler, for his music lessons. California Avenue will lose some of its vitality because Draper's has gone, she said.

Since Couch doesn't live locally, it "puts out" Williams and Keeler, a ninth-grader in Gunn High School's freshman jazz band. Developing a relationship with Couch over the last four years -- and then losing that connection -- is disruptive, she added.

"Since Draper's closed, he hasn't had any trombone lessons," Williams said.

Williams doesn't doubt that losing the Draper's venue is impacting the teachers' bottom line, even if they have other ways to make a living.

"I think when you talk about income, you have to consider that musicians count on many pieces for their income; each piece is pretty important," she said.

But the intrinsic value of teaching in an environment such as Draper's also can't be under-valued.

"What's really a shame about losing Draper's is that all the teachers had a sense of community," Williams said. "It seems like Palo Alto should have a chamber of commerce that would be concerned about losing a resource like Draper's."

Williams attended a meeting of the California Avenue Area Development Association -- a nonprofit group of merchants, landlords and professionals -- hoping the group might be able to find a space for the teachers, who paid Draper $10 per hour to rent a studio space. At the small meeting, everyone was very friendly, but Williams hasn't been contacted by anyone offering any space.

"I wish we had a business climate in Palo Alto where we can react quickly to these kinds of situations ... I hope Palo Alto will work a little harder to support businesses that create community."

E-mail Staff Writer Sue Dremman at [email protected]

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