After a fallout with two employees, Alphabasic Music Center took a break, relocated to 3240 S. Morgan, and became a music school and community center.
The new non-profit center, called 32 Forty, is a space for more than music classes—it hosts lessons in everything from papermaking to martial arts, as well as events ranging from music performances to poetry readings.
“I feel like there’s not enough of that in schools,” owner and musician Benn Jordan says. “There’s not enough programs where you can just have a kid try out different things and then see if he latches onto one, because that’s how people make careers.”
The current list of classes includes Photoshop, painting, papermaking, yoga, capoeira, parkour, and jiu jitsu in addition to music lessons.
Jordan says he’s open to other classes as well, especially programming workshops.
Jordan—whose eclectic music falls under many pseudonyms, but most notably The Flashbulb—says he wanted to open a music school in the first place, because growing up on the South Side meant no one he knew could afford music lessons at their typical prices. Barmey Ung, guitar and capoeira instructor, says 32 Forty’s goal is to make the lessons as affordable as possible, while also making it sustainable for the teachers.
“We’re focused a lot around what people want to learn,” Adam Kowalczyk, guitar instructor, says. “When they want to learn something new, we want to go out and find a way to accommodate that.”
From left to right: Instructor Adam Kowalczyk, owner Benn Jordan and instructor Barmey Ung at 32 Forty (Photographs courtesy of Benn Jordan)
However, Jordan says he’s learned to be more careful about selecting teachers.
“I know a million teachers, but I trust only a small fraction of them to actually show up on time and competently do their job,” Jordan says, adding that a few of the teachers at Alphabasic didn’t inspire enthusiasm. “That’s devastating to me… to think that the kid might then say, ‘I hate playing the drums,’ rather than saying, ‘I hate the douchebag that taught me the drums.’”
Unfortunately, two of the regular teachers at Alphabasic—one a partner at the company and the other her boyfriend—taught Jordan a harsher lesson in trust.
Jordan says he was driving by the school on May 9 when he noticed something was off and did a double-take.
“What I noticed was that the couches were missing… and I go in there and I realized that pretty much everything of value was taken,” Jordan says. Even a piano was gone; the employees had used a moving company.
This came after they had discussed moving the school to 3240 S. Morgan and the female employee had unexpectedly quit, but refused to sign a legal agreement, which is required to leave the board of a non-profit, Jordan says. Then, later on May 9, he received an email from her.
“As of this morning, my personal belongings have been removed and the furniture donated on my behalf has been returned,” the email read. “I have also taken an appropriate amount of items, furniture, and instruments that I believe I am owed as partner of this company.”
Jordan later found that she had been regularly taking money from Alphabasic’s account—she was in charge of bookkeeping—which gave Jordan the impression they were losing money, though that wasn’t the case.
But that wasn’t the end of Alphabasic Music Center. The end came when the male employee quit without notice. Jordan says about 40 percent of the students were his.
“That’s when I decided it was time to close the door and re-organize,” Jordan says, “because I could throw a bunch of money at the situation, but it doesn’t repair the fact that you have a bunch of kids who don’t have a teacher now and were sort of left in the dark.”
So he closed the door at Alphabasic and opened one at 32 Forty in late August. Kowalczyk and Ung said it took a lot of work to get the new location ready, including sanding, staining, and finishing the floors, painting every wall, building a stage, and replacing most of the doors.
Jordan says he was originally going to use the space as his studio, but the night before moving his gear in, he decided it was too perfect as a school building.
“One thing you need when you do music lessons is rooms with windows, because it’s creepy to take someone’s kid into a room with no windows,” Jordan says. 32 Forty has three separate, windowed rooms, “and that’s because the building used to be a brothel.”
And the large open area with three rooms gives 32 Forty plenty of space for lessons and a wide range of events, allowing the school to become a sort of community center where nearly anyone can rent out the space.
“It’s not even the same thing anymore,” Kowalczyk says. “[Alphabasic] was solely a music school. This is a whole community center for everyone.”
Ung says the community has responded and 32 Forty has received many requests for things other than music lessons. There will also be an artist residency program that allows the selected artist to do virtually anything with the front room for three months.
“There’s no place like this in the area,” Ung says. “It’s just a place where you can pretty much do whatever you want. Whatever kind of expression you wish to explore, we’re here to help you.”