Cultivating my place in a music-centric culture / by Annabeth McNamara

Photo by Renee Byrd

Photo by Renee Byrd


I've been teaching music since 2012, mostly beginner piano, banjo, guitar, and voice. 

While it's always been an interesting way to make money, I feel I've only just hit my stride in finding a rhythm to the lessons and a trust in the material to take us where we need to go.

I have a piano student who told me this week, "This must be so boring to someone as experienced as you," to which I replied, "No, it's not boring at all! It's like holding the pure marble brick in your hand, that will become a temple." 

Similarly, a voice student told me this week, "You know so much about music, I'm just in awe of you," to which I replied, "Being a life-long learner of music, the progress never seems very fast. But slowly but surely I'm laying brick after brick, building on a foundation of knowledge that is constantly growing as I push myself to be a better musician. So I know that when I'm old I won't feel that much more advanced, but the bricks will have added up to a mansion." 

I haven't used my fancy-pants college education nearly as much as the direct investment of music lessons that I received have turned into music lessons I've been able to give. Paying for private music lessons for a child is actually an investment in their overall education, as it grows their intelligence and helps them to be well-rounded. But it can even lead to having a career skill in their back-pocket when their formal schooling doesn't pan out.

I'm excited to begin teaching a young student (I call her mini-me because she reminds me of me at her age) with a real musical appetite how to use the garageband app to begin to record her original compositions. This is baby-bach-level exciting! It's the new digital wave, which will be a truly important part of the foundation of any future musician's wheelhouse. I'm excited to see how her potential pans out with these technological tools woven into her grasp of theory and aesthetic.

The most rewarding thing, which I've heard teachers mention, is how much better a grasp of the material I have when I teach it. Teaching music keeps my hands in the sonic garden, honing my awareness of time signatures, key signatures, tempo, discipline, and the power of practice. Above all, it helps me stick to my personal practice, to just be out there digging in the dirt with the kids every day. It also boosts my self-esteem to work with people who hold my musical capacities in high regard and admiration.

My quick update is that I've been busy taking on a bunch of new music students. I'm also playing a fun lil' run of house shows this month, accompanied by Bram Crowe-Getty on percussion, plus I'll get to play with my mystical friend Megan on a couple songs, and with my long-time buddy Oil Derek opening for a night. Contact me if you'd like me to serenade you and your favorite people in the comfort of your own home (or if you're interested in a special invite to one of the shows).

The reason why I moved to Charlottesville was because I knew it had a surprisingly dense population of people who value music within a relatively small cityscape. (I can't hang for long in the big cities). This month I'm really feeling the abundance of an arts-centric local culture. #gratitude