After becoming aware of the drastic funding cuts to music education in California’s public schools, musician and actor Michael “Flea” Balzary co-founded the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, which offers affordable — and in some cases, free — music education to children.
“For me, if you have something beautiful to express and you’re not able to express it, that’s the most tragic thing that could ever happen,” Balzary told The Times in a conversation before the school’s Sept. 9 gala in East Hollywood, honoring the superstar bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Invitations designed by artist Shepard Fairey set the tone for the arts-filled gala, which began with a silent auction of works by Ed Ruscha, Kenny Scharf, Robert Therrien, Thomas Houseago, Raymond Pettibon, Glenn Kaino, John Baldessari, Charming Baker and other noted artists. Following dinner, the festive shindig culminated in concerts by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Randy Newman and Anderson Paak, who became a father the previous evening.
“I just had a kid yesterday,” he announced gleefully from onstage, before launching into his set.
Silverlake Conservatory of Music’s chamber orchestra kicked off the show, followed by the Chili Peppers in conjunction with conservatory’s youth choir. The legendary Newman then sang his classics, along with two tunes from his new album, “Dark Matter,” which included an anthem to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who “drives the ladies crazy when he takes his shirt off.”
Held at the music school’s spacious new campus, the affair also gave guests a chance to wander through the converted factory designed, according to architect Barbara Bestor, as a “magic village,” complete with individual lesson rooms, a mezzanine, christened the “Fleazzzzzzanine,” and a performance space with hexagonal light fixtures that appeared to float overhead.
Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron acted as host, welcoming an audience thick with music insiders, as well as actor Owen Wilson, filmmaker Gus Van Sant, “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway, artists Fairey, Kaino and Baker, assembly member Laura Friedman, Gagosian Gallery director Deborah McLeod and more.
Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis introduced the honoree by recalling that as a 15-year-old, Balzary “was the first child musician that I had ever met” who was already dedicated to music, thanks to “stumbling” into junior high school and meeting a music teacher who taught him the trumpet.
“I learned from him,” Kiedis continued. “We built a life together around music. … We traveled the world and we wrote songs and we jumped off bridges and just made a beautiful, wild, adventurous existence based on music. Then he got successful and he could have very easily just said, ‘I’m good. I’ve got mine.’”
Building on an earlier observation from Silverlake Conservatory of Music co-founder Keith “Tree” Barry, Kiedis added, “There’s this spirit in him that really wants to give to the world, specifically the children of the world, the same beautiful, amazing and magical opportunity that he stumbled into when there were teachers teaching music in school.”
On accepting his award, Flea said, “Starting a music school was a no-brainer. … It just seemed like a good idea, and it grew into this, in this incredible building and into our 17th year. We’ve never been about fame or money or anything other than just teaching kids to play music, picking up an instrument and playing it and getting lost in the process — the beautiful meditative process of letting God speak through you.”
Although total proceeds have not yet been tabulated, 325 guests paid $2,500 each to attend. Currently 1,200 students attend the nonprofit school, including 215 on full scholarship. Since the school’s inception, it has provided free or affordable music education to an estimated 15,000 students.
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