It was a balmy afternoon upstairs in the 402 office. The windows were opened wide. One could hear the loud trucks as they rolled by and laughter from people in the street below. The Benson community was going about it’s day as the 402 Artist Instructor, Jose Franco, walked up the steps. He had previously agreed to sit down with the 402 and tell us a bit about himself.
“I grew up in Mexico. Before we came to the States, my father bought a cheap Casio piano and said that his kids would learn to play but you see we didn’t do much with it,” described Jose. When Jose was 13-years-old his family moved to the United States without knowing how to play any instruments. The church in Norfolk started out small. “No one knew how to play music,” explained Jose. Therefore there was no music on Sunday mornings. His father was the pastor at the church and had the hopes that one day his children would play the music for the church.
The first introduction to music Jose and his older brother had was very basic guitar lessons. These lessons were taught by a man who started coming to their church not long after their arrival. “Very simple lessons,” described Jose. “We learned three or four cords. As this was happening, we got more and more people at our church. We had a family come who knew music and I would sit there and watch them practice. I would watch what their hands were doing and take notes for myself. When I became friends with them I started asking questions.” Jose took the notes he had written and the answers to his questions and practiced for hours upon hours until he would master whatever he was working on.
“I drove my brother nuts and it came to the point where he had to tell our parents that I wouldn’t let him sleep. They told me I had to stop playing on our Casio piano at a certain time. It was frustrating.”
Two or three years laters after Jose started playing piano and guitar, the keyboard player didn’t show up for practice one night. “Everyone didn’t know what to do and I said, ‘I can play,’ and everyone said, ‘No you can’t!’” Little did they know that Jose had been watching and practicing day in and day out. “That was the first day I ever played for people.”
Playing mainly by ear and asking questions, Jose never took official lessons. The more musicians he got to know, the more questions he got answered. Jose started out knowing a few cords and would practice a song over and over until he would finally get it down. He describes it as a grueling process.
About this time, Jose had entered high school. “I kind of knew what I was doing in music at least I knew enough to hold my own,” described Jose. The relationships he had at this stage in his life shaped who is he is today. Jose said the band he was in at church encouraged him to stick with music even when it got hard. “We were all beginners,” said Jose. “We kept getting complements about how good we sounded and it just made me want to learn more.”
“However the thing that I found most frustrating was I wanted to learn more but I didn’t know where to begin.”
The concept of always having something to learn, is a huge part of Jose’s lessons. “I know that there are people out there who have youtube but they are in need of guidance.” He wants to provide that encouragement and be the teacher who can come along side the student and help them every step of the way. “I don’t want people to go through what I went through. Instead I am trying to give them the shorter version.”
Jose has experienced different forms of success as he grew into the musician he is today. From performing to recording and even to seeing one of his students grow into a successful musician, Jose says he is blessed. He tells the 402 that it doesn’t matter how small or large something is, if someone is putting themselves out there as a musician, that is a success in and of itself. With success comes failure and with failure comes growth and Jose says he can attest to that.