- Associated Press - Sunday, September 13, 2020

VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) - Music is a universal language and one that Cheryl Oliver’s son, Hal Johnson, knew well.

“One of Hal’s passions was playing the guitar and other stringed instruments, and he seemed determined to get everyone in his world strumming,” Oliver, former executive director of the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts, said.

When he passed from cancer in 2016, she decided to honor his and his late sister Jill’s memory through the Hal and Jill Project at the center, allowing others the opportunity to pursue music.

The project recently expanded, welcoming its first ukulele teacher, Dave Rodock, who could be described as the embodiment of Hal’s mission to get everyone strumming.

“I didn’t have a lot of money and I was always scrawny,” Rodock said. “The guitar was always there for me.”

Rodock has spent two decades playing a bit of everything for a bit of everyone, noting that many instruments he’s learned transfer between themselves, and finding it to be a humbling experience.

Prior to the quarantine, he was gigging three to four times a week, whether with Dirty Bird and the Flu, Dave & Friends, or with other music groups in the area.

Valdosta has been home to Rodock for 16 years and he’s grown to love the local music scene, banding together with other talented musicians in the area.

“The music in Valdosta is fantastic,” Rodock said. “We had garage bands and house shows and venues supporting shows over the years. Bands have been able to grow.”

Rodock knows there are plenty future generations of musicians just waiting to learn in Valdosta, so he has found his path in teaching, both through the Turner Center and at Azalea City Music Academy.

His first month of classes at the Turner Center will be geared toward younger students, ranging in ages from 6 to 12, and becomes a new way for a child to learn to express themselves.

“It encourages them to challenge themselves,” Rodock said.

He said he believes these challenges develop not only into lessons in music but lessons for life.

As for the ukulele, Rodock said the instrument is not as difficult to tackle and lessons at the art center are not too harsh of a commitment.

“It’s approachable,” Rodock said. “It’s not quite so much for someone to bite off and chew. It’s affordable and compact.”

The ukulele’s small size means it has far fewer frets than a guitar and only four nylon strings for students to take on. Lessons will be “peppered” with a bit of rich history.

While the classes may just be opening now for younger ages, Rodock said he hopes to see it open to older ages in the future and take on students at Azalea City Music Academy as well, which is founded and owned by Angela Duncan. It can be found online at azaleacitymusicacademy.com.

The lessons at the Turner Center begin Oct. 6 and will be held 5-6 p.m. every Tuesday. The Hal and Jill Project also teaches guitar lessons for youth ages 12-18 Thursdays. Lessons are $40 and instruments are provided. Partial and full scholarships are available.

More information can be found online at turnercenter.org or by calling (229) 247-2787.

As for Rodock, he said he hopes students will find the lessons interesting and he is excited to engage with them on their terms.

“There’s a lot of people with spare time right now and there’s a lot of frustration out there,” Rodock said. “Hopefully, people can find creative outlets.”

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