BELFAST, Maine — The funky sounds of a walking bass line drifted down the halls of BCOPE, the Belfast area’s alternative high school, as student Dan Arnold began his music lesson.
In a small room packed with guitars, a drum kit and other musical paraphernalia, volunteer teacher Bruce Boege of Northport picked up a guitar and started talking.
“Music was really important to me and basically saved my life in high school,” he said. “I want to give back.”
Arnold played a riff, his fingers moving rapidly over the instrument. He said that he loves everything about music and described himself as a formerly angry guy who now is able to calm down when he begins to play.
“It’s amazing,” the 18-year-old from Searsport said. “Music saved my life, too.”
And then the two men returned to jamming together, communicating wordlessly while making something beautiful.
This kind of moment will be even more common in the cheerful, busy school of about 40 students thanks to two important grants that BCOPE recently received. One, from the “Music Drives Us” New England music charity, has given the school $7,000 to be used to purchase instruments, fund practices and field trips for student performances at places like nursing homes and other schools. Much of the work to obtain the grant was done by BCOPE’s longtime volunteer music teacher and force of nature Tim Woitowitz, according to program director, Gary Skigen.
The purpose of such a high school is to offer alternative routes for learning to its students, most of whom were not thriving in more mainstream classroom environments, he said. And studying music is a great alternative for some of them.
“Everybody’s different in what they evaluate or assess as important,” Skigen said. “To me, the human spirit, especially a spirit that’s been abused, injured or angered — well, with music, healing can take place.”
The second grant also will provide another avenue for a different sort of learning that is also hands-on and meaningful, he said. Bangor Savings Bank has given BCOPE $2,500 to help fund the school’s participation in WoodenBoat’s Boatbuilding and Rowing Challenge, known as BARC.
With that money — plus $1,000 more that has yet to be raised — the school will be able to purchase a kit to construct a St. Ayles Skiff, a rowing boat design from Scotland. It’s 22 feet and 330 pounds of a unique experience for interested students, he said, and will be built in a workspace at the former Crowe Rope building in Morrill. It’s a project that sounds pretty good to student Thomas Littlefield, 19, of Searsport. He said that he helped build a smaller wooden skiff this past year and that he enjoyed getting the hands-on experience. The best part? “Building a boat,” he said.
For more information about the alternative high school, visit http://www.sad34.net/bcope/.