In the groove: From the front porch, the Morrisons are making noise

John, Eliza, Emily and Anne Marie Morrison can often be found having a jam session on the front porch of their Belmont house. Photo: Meredith Coe John, Eliza, Emily and Anne Marie Morrison can often be found having a jam session on the front porch of their Belmont house. Photo: Meredith Coe

You may have never seen the Morrison family before, but if you live in Belmont, you’ve likely heard them. The quartet—John, Emily and their two daughters, 12-year-old Eliza and 10-year-old Anne Marie—often sets up their family band on their front porch across from Belmont Park, which, as it turns out, is a great advertisement for their nonprofit roots/acoustic music school, The Front Porch (go figure).

“By ‘roots’ we mean old time, bluegrass, blues and folk,” says Emily, who hosts jams, teaches classes and holds workshops in guitar, fiddle, banjo, cello, voice and dance from their home, but will expand the school and its offerings to a studio on the campus of Mountaintop Montessori in the fall. “We’ll have lots of classes available for people of all ages.”

The true purpose of The Front Porch,” says Emily, “is to be a gathering place for music lovers and players, a community center for creativity.” And the Morrisons practice what they preach: Each family member plays at least two instruments. We spent an afternoon with them for a peek at their life in Charlottesville (and their musical chops).

Photo: Meredith Coe
Photo: Meredith Coe

Describe another member of your family in three words or less.

John: Anne Marie is warm, lively and persistent.

Emily: John is dedicated, appreciative, loving and lighthearted.

Eliza: My mom is chatty, loyal and creative. (John adds, “Inspired.”)

Anne Marie: Eliza is playful, funny and smart.

Photo: Meredith Coe
Photo: Meredith Coe

What are your careers and hobbies?

Emily: I’ve been a classroom teacher for 15 years in the Charlottesville area. I taught high school English at Western Albemarle and at Tandem Friends School, and was the music director at Mountaintop Montessori. I’m also a yoga teacher—I run a summer camp for kids called Yoga Camp for Creativity. But this year I’m taking a hiatus from all of it to homeschool Anne Marie and get The Front Porch started. John has been a Medical Physicist at Varian Medical Systems in Charlottesville for 14 years.

John: We love playing music with friends and family—Emily’s two talented brothers also live in Charlottesville. Our kids have grown up participating in the Blue Ridge Irish Music School, which has been formative for them in terms of loving traditional music and dance. The girls ride with the Cutaway Girls’ Mountain Bike team, which they have been participating in for three years now. It’s a wonderful program that promotes strength and determination in young girls.

Emily: We camp, hike and backpack in this area as well as out west. John is from the West Coast, so we’ve spent a number of our summers in Washington, Oregon and Colorado. John spends most of his spare time searching for banjo picks, puttering in the yard and walking Sheila (the dog).

Photo: Meredith Coe
Photo: Meredith Coe

Anne Marie and Eliza, what would be your ultimate day in or around Charlottesville?

Anne Marie: Get up at 8:30, go to the Saturday farmer’s market and get tacos and donuts, have a play date, eat pizza lunch, then go biking with our friends at Preddy Creek. For dinner we would have stuffed shells and a Caesar salad, and we would watch two family movies before bed. (Eliza adds, “Read a great book and eat more donuts!”)

Photo: Meredith Coe
Photo: Meredith Coe

When and where do you spend family time around Charlottesville?

Our absolute favorite hike in the area (shh, it’s a secret!) is the St. Mary’s Wilderness over in Stuarts Draft—it’s great for a day hike as well as a backpacking excursion. The Saturday and Wednesday farmer’s markets are sure bets for us in the warmer months. We love riding bikes on the Rivanna Trail and Albemarle greenways. The girls’ favorite bike ride is Preddy Creek. These days we find ourselves on the sidelines at many girls’ lacrosse games on the weekends.

Do you have any advice on how families can better enjoy our town?

Get outside! The Rivanna Trail is a wonderful resource that we use nearly daily to walk our dog Sheila and ride bikes. We spend a lot of time in city parks, especially Belmont Park, which is across the street from our house. Our girls practically learned to walk at that park, and it’s still a big part of our life every day. Enjoy your neighborhood! We frequently stroll the ’hood visiting friends, having dinners and wandering downtown to hit the library and get gelato.

Take the kids to a show! There are so many incredible arts-related activities available to us that often we feel we’re choosing what not to do. John and I met at the Prism many years ago, a place where we still love to see live music as a family. I love theater, of which there is a staggering abundance in C’ville, and of course catching live music of all kinds, which we have in spades. The density of talented musicians and artists in this area is truly awesome.

What are some of the more challenging aspects of parenthood?

I suppose the greatest challenge is often feeling there aren’t enough hours in the day. Coffee helps! But we also feel so grateful and humbled by this beautiful community we live in, it’s hard for any of the challenges to feel like much more than blips on the radar.

What instruments do you play?

Emily: Piano, banjo

John: Banjo, guitar, mandolin

Anne Marie: Cello, piano

Eliza: Clarinet, piano

Want more info?

Visit frontporchcville.com to read more about the Morrisons’ project.

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