Teaching for the love of music

It’s more than a job, and it’s a very special way of life. But for two Blount County music teachers, their passion for their instrument is matched by a love of teaching that has led them down a very fulfilling path.

They come for different reasons. Some want to learn their favorite rock songs, or are hoping to emulate a pop icon. Some are planning on careers in music, while others want to play a solo at church. Mostly, it’s kids, and, mostly, they’ve chosen to be here.

They’re students. And, on any given weekday, they converge upon Murlin’s Music World, at the corner of Broadway and Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville.

The rush begins right after school, and by 4:30, the parking lot is nearly filled to capacity. Parents and children crowd the waiting area outside the teaching studios while teachers and their students bustle up and down the short hallway in a cacophonous ballet that won’t let up until well into the evening. Candy machines and an ’80s vintage soda machine are put through their paces by waiting students and busy teachers alike. Guitar cases and backpacks sprawl along the floor.

And there’s music everywhere. Violins, mandolins, electric guitars, banjo, piano and even drums fight for dominance in the din that accompanies learning.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you enter the studio lobby is the mural that covers an entire wall. It’s a gray, monotone painting that manages to conjure color and sound. The men depicted labor over piano, drums and bass. And, somehow, you can hear the clang and hum of a jazz club crowd just below the rollicking roar of this captured jazz trio.

Drew Lequire and Roscoe Morgan are, in some ways, cut from the same cloth. Both are teachers here at Murlins, and both have deep roots in bluegrass and country music. And, most importantly, they both love teaching.

“There’s a difference between somebody who can play and somebody who’s a teacher,” says Drew Lequire.

The 25 year old graduate of Maryville College has been teaching full time at Murlin’s since December of 2007. He started teaching when he was 18, and has learned a lot in his seven years of experience, both in the studio and the classroom.

Drew started his college career studying Jazz guitar. After two and a half years majoring in performance, he switched gears and concentrated in music education, specializing in signing. He moved to the education track in part because of the stability it seemed to offer. But when he graduated, he didn’t have any luck finding a job in the local school system.

So he ramped up his private studio and began teaching full time.

“If I’d stuck with [jazz guitar], the college bills wouldn’t have been as big,” Drew says. “I’d be doing what I’m doing now, but I’d have started it sooner.”

But, even though he’s not found a teaching job in the public school system, Drew is happy to have had the training he received as a music education major; the skills he learned for the classroom apply in the private teaching studio too. Drew credits his education with giving him a unique perspective on teaching. He’s able to understand how each student is taking in the information he presents, and tailor a lesson to their needs.

“I play to their strengths,” he says.

His lessons are often filled with stories and visualizations. When a student has trouble holding a pick properly, he uses a sports analogy to set up the lesson. He talks about choking up on a baseball bat to get more control; the same rule applies in guitar, he says. You choke up on the pick to get control of the sound.

He uses these same techniques over and over to help his students understand their instruments. Commonplace objects and everyday language help to drive home complicated and abstract musical concepts. It’s a formula that has been successful for Drew.

He studio now numbers 35 weekly students, garnered primarily through word-of-mouth. He teaches five days a week, mostly in the evenings. Even in the slow economy, his student count has remained steady. Enough new students start each month to offset any that he loses.

The same scenario holds true for Roscoe Morgan.

“My personal economy has not been affected very much by the national economy,” he says. Though he can’t point to a specific reason, he speculates that people may be giving up more expensive hobbies and are rediscovering music as a pastime.

Roscoe’s studio has about 45 students, spread over the four days a week Roscoe devotes to teaching. He supplements his teaching with mini-tours a few times a year and some recording session work. He could be on the road more, but he prefers teaching to touring.

“Teaching is a way to work yourself into the music business while being able to stay home with the family,” he says. And teaching provides a steady income stream that lets him choose the projects he wants to get involved in. “Teaching helps smooth the income so you can play the bit you get to.”

Roscoe has played in bands since the ’70s, and he’s probably taught for longer.

“I’ve always taught, I just haven’t always taught for money,” he laughs.

After working ten and a half years in a North Carolina textile mill and “two years cutting tool steel and my index fingers” Roscoe came to the point where he couldn’t balance a factory job and a career as a musician. “It drove me into teaching,” he says.

So he got to thinking. “I’ve lived as long as I have on a factory worker’s paycheck, why not try the other.” Roscoe hasn’t looked back, even though there are some unique challenges to being a self-employed musician.

“You know what you’re going to do until you die if you are a teacher,” he says. There’s no 401k, no pension and no employer-provided insurance for private music teachers. But retirement really wouldn’t be an option for Roscoe Morgan anyway.

“I’m already doing what I’d be doing after I retired,” he says. “If you’re just here for the check, it won’t take people long to figure that out. You really have to have a heart for music.”

It’s a point Drew Lequire and Roscoe Morgan agree on.

“To see them light up,” Drew says, “and know they’re getting something, that they’re learning. They get exicited.” Drew describes his favorite part of teaching. He loves watching his students have the “A-ha moment” when a lesson really clicks.

“I believe that everyone has a measure of musical gift,” Roscoe says. “It’s my job to find the music within a person and encourage them to excel at it.”

And that “A-ha moment”? Roscoe has something to say about that too.

“If you don’t like that, then you’re not a teacher.”

This article originally appeared in the Progress section of The Daily Times

By Timothy Hankins

A theologian, pastor, and writer who seeks to teach and live the fullness of the ancient Christian faith. Anglican in a Wesleyan way (read: Methodist).