May 12, 2011


Music program just needs kids

MusicJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland Youth Bureau music instructors Sean Tuohy, left, and Dennis DeRado, center, teach music to students like Bill Cozort, right, who’s shown playing on Monday.

Living and Leisure Editor

Dennis DeRado, a longtime drum instructor at the Cortland Youth Center, can’t believe what’s available at the 35 Port Watson St. recreation space.
“When we were kids, there would not be six guitars sitting in a back room. Our friends would be using them,” said the Virgil man, who’s been giving music lessons, along with his friend, Sean Tuohy, a guitar teacher, at the Cortland Youth Center since the building opened in 1995.
Kids can borrow guitars and amps for free, practice with their bands in a special band room without cost, and use the youth center stage, complete with lighting and sound technology, to perform, for free.
“We want to make people more aware of what we have,” said Heather Johnson, youth services specialist.
Caxlled Music Matters, youth who qualify can access reduced rate guitar, bass and drum lessons at the youth center, Johnson said. Scholarships are available for free music lessons, as well. Drum and electric and bass guitar lessons take place there weekly.
Kids can also borrow instruments for free for three months, whether an electric guitar, bass guitar, amps or electric keyboard.
“They can practice drumming here,” said DeRado, of the youth center’s drum set.
“Kids can apply for free music lessons through a music scholarship,” Johnson said. “They get 12 free lessons.”
The youth center is able to offer that deal because of the Phil Clarke Benefit, recently held, which raised monies for the youth center music program. Area musicans stage a concert, donating their talent to the cause, in memory of the late Phil Clarke, a youth advocate and music lover.
The youth center also has a live band night at the teen center once a month. Bands get a cut of the admission at the door. And a band room is located in the center for bands to practice in.
“A lot of this stuff we didn’t have when Sean and I were kids,” said DeRado.
“Sean and I have been playing together since we were 14.”
He said Ces Scott, the Youth Bueau assistant director, used to get the kids playing gigs in the area.
“The big thing was the Day in the Park. We (also) used to play at the County Office Building. She would hire light guys and we’d play over there. At Corey Union, we got 350 kids who would show up there. We loved it. There was not enough places to play. If this place was here, we would have loved it,” said DeRado.
“I think there was a lull after the disco era,” said Tuohy. “Disco killed the bands,” he laughed.
The city Youth Bureau used to provide free lessons for teens, paying DeRado and Tuohy out of its budget. But in 2010, that money was cut because of tight economic times. Now the two are offering their lessons at a reduced rate for kids that qualify. But Johnson said a lot of the teens still have a tough time paying for them.
“Between Sean and I, we have 25 students. I’m guessing we are less than 20,” said DeRado. “The end of the free lessons made a big difference. We always had a waiting list,” he said.
The two say Bandon King and Joel Brown, two locals who play in The Tremble, took advantage of what the youth center had to offer, taking guitar, bass and drum lessons. They went to SUNY Oneonta for the same music program that Tuohy and DeRado both graduated from.
“They are playing really good original music,” DeRado said. Another fellow, Dan Sargent, took lessons back in the early days as a home-schooled student. “He went into the youth ministry. That’s what he does for a living, plays guitar and sings. He’s probably 30 now,” Tuohy said.
DeRado said he thinks there’s a negative stigma attached to the youth center, keeping lots of kids away. But he’s been there weekly and has never seen anything amiss. In fact, he brings his own 9-year-old child there while he’s teaching, he said.
Bill Cozort, 20, started taking guitar lessons about five years ago, after receiving a guitar for Christmas. He struggled with a right handed guitar until he got a hold of a left handed guitar.
“I was in a band when nobody knew how to play their instrument,” said the Tompkins Cortland Community College student. DeRado knew all about that: “My dad used to call it simultaneous noise,” he said.
Cozort took lessons for about a year and a half and would play open mic night at the youth center with his guitar.
“There are few people that had the guts to get up there and play solo guitar,” said Tuohy.
Cozort evenutally took music lessons at Harrington Brothers on Central Avenue, receiving college credit for them. He loves music so much, he’ll transfer to SUNY Oneonta for its music program. Now he is recording music at his house and plays the keyboards. He can play drums and bass “a little bit.”
“I had a lot of fun coming here, practising, playing live shows,” he said. “The first time I played a live show here, even though it was so bad, it was one of my best days,” he said.


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