Schools of rock

There’s a whole lot of moving, shaking, and band-building going on in the world of local music instruction
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  November 28, 2007

"How I became a Grasshole: Or how my music teacher tricked me into having fun." By Sam Pfeifle.
Peter Milliken, executive director at the two-year-old 317 Main Street Community Music Center, has a vision for his music school, based in a stately Victorian house in Yarmouth: “You walk in here, and you feel as though you’re visiting your favorite aunt or uncle’s house ... it’s a place where you want to visit and you’re willing to take risks.”

That vision sounds a lot like that of Deirdre McClure, executive director at the Portland Conservatory of Music, which is about to move into new digs: “I want to help [our students] feel part of something.”

Jeff Shaw, proprietor of Portland’s much-heralded Rock Camp and the brand-spanking-new Maine Academy of Modern Music, is on board, too. He offers this feel-good nugget about a band he’s put together through his music instruction: “There’s one group of kids where one’s an exchange student from Italy, one kid is from North Yarmouth Academy, there are two Portland High kids, and one kid that just got out of Long Creek [Youth Detention Center]; and they’re all raging against the machine in their own way in this rock band.”

Over the course of the past two years, private music instruction in greater Portland has grown considerably, with at least 30 percent more students and the addition of two large schools. Whether it's because of decreasing public-school spending on music education or burgeoning demand, or both, these local schools of music — and they are now, more than ever, schools — are becoming more than just a group of small rooms in which to spend a half-hour with a struggling musician looking for some extra cash. They are creating bands, building communities, and offering more opportunity for an interested potential musician to get more out of music instruction than just learning to play an instrument.

“There are places that will teach cookie-cutter-method book learning,” says Tim Emery, one of the owners of Buckdancer’s Choice, which has provided music instruction for more than 30 years. “It’s certainly easy to do, but it really doesn’t give the kid a fighting chance, and often times it turns them off as much as excites them.”

There are at least 30, and likely more, private businesses that will help you learn an instrument in the Greater Portland area, ranging from one-person enterprises with lessons in living rooms (yours or theirs), to the Conservatory, which touts itself as Maine’s largest music school, with more than 400 students and as many as 40 instructors. Quite simply, there are competitive market forces at work here, with greater numbers of students than ever before (a conservative estimate for greater Portland? 2000+, from preschoolers to the elderly) having more instructors to choose from. Those market forces are creating changes for the betterment of local music-instruction consumers, and increasing the number of trained musicians being funneled into our local music scene.

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