October 19, 2021

Phil Clarke’s spirit lives on

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Zipporah Huffman, 18, of Cortland, plays the drums Thursday at the Cortland Youth Bureau.

Playing the drums helps Zipporah Huffman channel her emotions.

“If I’m going through a stressful time, playing helps me go through that, it helps me relax,” said the Cortland High School junior, who takes drum lessons every week at the Cortland Youth Center.

She and teacher Sloane Treat listened Thursday to Bon Jovi and worked their magic at sets in the center sound room.

“I already have the basic skills of the drum set,” Huffman said. “The basic beat.”

Treat issued commands that Huffman followed easily. She said she’s been taking drum lessons for two years.

“I can’t believe it’s been that long,” said Huffman, who also has been a percussion student for years in the Cortland school district.

Thanks to the center’s Music Matters program, she is able to access free lessons once a week.

“I don’t have a drum set at home. I don’t have enough money for one,” she said. “I practice on the drum set at Cortland High.”

Young musicians can borrow guitars, amps and keyboards for free at the center, 35 Port Watson St. They can also practice the drums.

Music lessons are offered five days a week: drum and keyboard lessons with Treat on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, or guitar with Sean Tuohy on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Some families pay for lessons and work out an arrangement with the music teachers, said Lorie Bethel, youth services specialist at the center. And the center can fill in with scholarship money.

The youth bureau relies on musicians, who donate their time to the annual Phil Clarke Benefit concert to raise funds for Music Matters.

Clarke was a youth advocate and musician who died of cancer.

The concert has been going on 50 years, Bethel said, though it may have not have sported the Clarke name or always funded the youth bureau. The concert has always funded a youth cause.

This year’s Phil Clarke Benefit will take place 5 to 10 p.m. Friday at BRU 64, 64 Main St., Cortland. Here’s the lineup:

* 5 p.m. — two bands from Jen Rafferty’s Cortland High modern band program
* 6 p.m. — Mel Drake, Chloe Tierno, Ryan Drake, Ron Starmer
* 7 p.m. — Colleen Kattau, Mike Brandt on bass and Jamie Yaman on sax
* 8 p.m. — The Howlers, featuring Mike Reagan and Thomas Pasquarello.

“A lot of kids wrote their own music and they thought it would be an opportunity to play their own stuff,” Rafferty said.

Kattau, of Cortland, a singer, songwriter and activist, is a regular and said she can’t remember how long she’s played at the event: “Decades.”

“It’s been a long time. Rosie, he’s the one. He and Mel Drake keep it going,” she said of Rosie Rosenthal, and Drake, both Cortland musicians.

“It’s a really good cause. I want to be able to support young people doing this thing. They have a future,” Kattau said. “As we can see by the current turn of events, they give us hope for the future. Things can be bleak at times. To see their youthful energy is inspiring.”

“I also love playing with people I play with and the other bands,” she added. “I love the community spirit it creates.”

Bethel said music is really important to kids. “Some have tough home lives,” she said. “A 30-minute band lesson (goes a long way). It’s been really cool to see kids blossom as they continue with the lessons, too.”

“Music is the biggest healing art ever,” said Kattau. “That’s a major reason I do it. It’s therapy.”

For Huffman, drum lessons would not be possible without Music Matters.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said.

She and Treat are working on multi-tasking, manipulating the beat and reading music.

“I know how to read music, but reading music and playing music simultaneously is really difficult,” Huffman said.

And since she has dyslexia, it’s harder.

“Within the last year, I have gotten better at reading and writing,” she said. “It’s even more fun because I know what I am doing.”

Reading music helped get her through the dyslexia. “It made me stop, look at words. Scan, look again.”

Rick Eleck, a band teacher at Cortland High who has since retired, was instrumental in that, she said, teaching her to slow down.

“It’s so much fun,” Huffman said. “After doing all the hard work — it’s so worth it.”