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Professor Flea

Silverlake Conservatory of MusicRed Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea (Michael Balzary) recently spoke with CNN about The Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a school he developed in 2001 with his childhood friend, Tree (Keith Barry).

The non-profit school, located at Sunset Junction in Los Angeles, offers after-school lessons and focuses on the fundamentals of playing an instrument, rather than focusing on being a rock star.

“It’s not about being famous. It’s not about being a rock star or anything like that. We’re just teaching fundamentals and technique of playing music,” Flea said.

Flea speaks about his early adulthood, how music re-shaped his life, and how he went on to found the conservatory.

“In high school and after high school, I was heading for disaster,” recalled Flea, who was then known by his given name, Michael Peter Balzary. “I was on drugs; I was robbing people’s houses; I was wild on the street. But lucky enough, through the public school system, I had been able to have some music education, and that gave me something to focus on, and discipline—like a family to feel part of. There was a healthy family.”

Flea eventually met the music director of his alma mater, Fairfax High, and was invited to check out the old music department. Flea comments, “I went there, and it was just barren. No funding, no instruments, nothin’. It made me feel empty inside. That’s when I thought, ‘I need to start a music school—a nonprofit music school. Anyone who wants to go can go.’ I was lucky enough to have the dough, and this place is flourishing.”

Twenty-five percent of the 900 students at the school are on scholarship, and Flea is hoping to get that number to fifty percent soon, since funding for music in public schools is constantly dwindling.

“For us to just be OK and do what we’re doing—in terms of the amount of kids that come for free—we have to raise a million a year to break even,” Flea confided. “I don’t believe that we’ve gotten one penny from the government.”

The school depends on donations to keep running, and in the main lobby of the school there is a painting of a tree showing the names of many of those who have donated to the school, such as Metallica and Warner Brothers. For more, visit the Silverlake Conservatory web site.

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