“If you can hear it – you can play it. If you can hum it – you can strum it,” says Carmel Music Academy Instructor and Musical Director, Daren Owens. Perfect words for this incredible music academy with a unique, fun approach to teaching music.
Carmel Music Academy has won the Best of Carmel for Specialty Schools two years in a row. They also have been named one of the Top 10 in the nation because of their curriculum.
They offer an energetic, inviting establishment for music students of all ages (with students currently ranging in age from 2 to 83.) I visited their establishment last week and when I walked in the door I was struck instantly by the warmth of the environment. I could hear the sound of the band playing in the background. One wall is covered in instruments and the other has a table pushed against it that is filled with trophies and other awards for the students. Upon arriving, I was greeted with warm smiles by people who have a love for music that is contagious. I walked away from our time together wanting to enroll my children in their program and learn how to play an instrument myself.
Jon E. Gee, who has been playing the bass guitar for John Mellencamp’s band since 1999, and his wife Sondra (who is affectionately referred to as Mrs. Gee) first opened the doors of Carmel Music Academy five years ago. What sets their musical instruction apart from others is that they teach their students songs they want to learn.
Before the first lesson, the instructor will already know the student’s favorite band, artist or genre. The students are not handed a set curriculum. In fact, they aren’t even handed a music book. Instead, they learn to play by listening to the music with the goal of eventually learning music and theory. The students take lessons in rooms that are stocked with every instrument. Each room has an observation window and they have an open door policy, so parents can stay and observe the lesson if they wish.
Mrs. Gee says, “We teach music backwards. You talk before you learn how to read, so you play before you learn how to read. A lot of places will lose students because they want to teach them about the instrument, how to read music and how to play all at once. When you are forcing all three, the student can lose interest. They are more likely to stick with it and play at home if it is fun. We tell our parents not to tell the kids to practice, but instead tell them to play. If you ask them to go and play for five minutes, that five minutes will quickly turn into 15 minutes – or more.”
Carmel Music Academy currently offers instruction for nine different instruments. It is important to them that the student picks the right instrument. The wall of instruments that was mentioned earlier is called “the petting zoo.” Students are encouraged to pick up the instruments, to handle them and to give them a try to see what they like. If a student is continually coming out of the room without a smile on their face then Mrs. Gee says, “It is our job to have them pick up something else and try it. Sometimes the students are just having a bad day and need some encouragement. I will find videos on YouTube of someone who looks like them playing their instrument and sometimes this is the encouragement they need.”
Academy Coordinator Greta DeSmit states,”We will do follow-up calls to check in and see how the students are doing. If they seem to be having fun here, but aren’t playing at home, then their instrument may not be a good fit. It may be time to switch.”
Another thing that sets them apart is their recognition program. Each student will set goals with their instructors and when those goals are achieved, they receive a wristband and a certificate. They also have trophies for the students to earn ranging from Apprentice to Prima. The parents do not pay any additional fees for this program. They also do not pay any additional fees for their concerts, which are held three times a year for all of their students. It isn’t just the parents who attend for free – guests are able to attend the performances for free as well. This is a huge benefit for parents, as these things can quickly add up.
Something else they offer that adds an element of excitement is the opportunity to play in a band. Students at Carmel Music Academy take individual lessons, but also have the opportunity to play together. Their Musical Director, Daren Owens, plays all of the instruments offered with the exception of the banjo and violin. He has traveled the world playing and producing music and has performed with various artists such as Brian McKnight and Rare Earth. He and Jon E. Gee have known each other for years and both share a passion for teaching kids how to play together. Owens says, “It’s about showing the students how to keep this going. There are no more record companies. Music is all independently produced and people aren’t learning how to play with others. Our goal in the band is learning how to play with others. I want to give back to them what was given to Jon E. Gee and me.”
If a student chooses to be in the band, then they have an additional two hours of practice together on Saturday. I had the privilege of being there on a Saturday and meeting the band consisting of four members: Riley – vocal and guitar (10 years old), Noah – bass guitar (10 years old), Mitchell – bass and drums (10 “and a half”) and Justin – bass guitar (11 years old.) When I asked about the name of the band I quickly realized that was still up for debate with the names “Orange Beach” and “Hard Liners” running a close first and second. It was so much fun to hear the band play. They are incredibly talented individuals who are committed to playing together. They are learning great skills, such as responsibility and the importance of team work, and having a ton of fun.
When I asked the kids what they enjoyed about being in a band, they all responded enthusiastically with answers such as:
“It is awesome and fun!”
“I like messing up and trying again!”
“It is fun to celebrate at the end of songs!”
“I like practicing and being with more people.”
“It is fun to be with kids my own age instead of watching adults. ”
With all of these great responses, it is obvious that their vision for Carmel Music Academy is coming to fruition. These kids are very passionate about what they are learning and it shows on their faces and in the sound of their performance.
As Owens said, “Everything we do builds on the next thing. These kids are learning to listen. Given the opportunity, we can all excel at something.” And these kids are most definitely excelling.
For more information on pricing and scheduling, please contact Carmel Music Academy at [email protected] or call 317-581-1030.