American Music being taught in Three Oaks

By David Johnson, News Editor

Harbor Country News  published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012

THREE OAKS — Starting up a local music school wasn’t really that large of a leap for Harbert musician Garth Taylor.

“I’ve been performing in the Harbor Country area for 25 years, and I’ve been teaching guitar lessons around here as kind of a hobby for 25 years also,” he said.

But Taylor’s main focus during that quarter century was running a non-profit public policy research corporation. Now he’s retired from those duties.

“As I thought about what I wanted to do next, I got rid of everything I didn’t want to do and what was left was the core thing I love the most – which is playing music and starting a music school here,” he said.

Taylor said his vision for the non-profit School of American Music (or SAM) stemmed from the classes he has given and those that he has both taken and taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.

“That gave me some ideas about what a curriculum would look like, what kind of approach to teaching works, how do you build performance into a teaching program so you’re not just learning theory … but you’re actually learning to perform in public,” he said.

Taylor said the School of American Music had “a very soft opening” with some existing private students being brought into the school in February.

“We’ve been adding sort of a student at a time,” he said, noting that water’s Edge United Methodist Church in New Buffalo has sponsored a group of aspiring musicians.

“There are probably between 15 and 20 students that we are working with,” Taylor said.

SAM’s classrooms are located on the second floor of the Three Oaks Township Public Library, 3 North Elm St.

“It used to be a bank building, and so the second-floor offices where the music school is used to be, I think, loan officer offices. They have a floor-to-ceiling glass wall on the partition looking in so you can always see what’s going on in the classroom, And they’re soundproof, because the loan officer had confidential conversations. So this space was turnkey ready for us and the library had some extra furniture that was either donated to them or that were from other programs in the past,” he said. “

Taylor is a believer in the power of live music. He and his cohorts in the String Theory band (Pete Steinau and Jos Davidson) rarely miss a chance to play live at local events such as the weekly Three Oaks Farmer’s Market.

“We have students performing within five or six weeks. First for the students in the classroom and then the next step is students will come and play a song or two with us at the Farmer’s Market.”

Taylor said more advanced students can play at the Pastiche Open Mic Night at the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks. He said a some also may participate in a young artists series set for this fall at the Box Factory for the Arts in St. Joseph.

“That’s a pretty …. advanced step because as singers and guitar players have to put together a half-hour show and learn to interact with the audience … You don’t master any of those steps immediately. It takes a lot of practice,” he said.

Taylor is one of four instructors who got in on the ground floor of the music school effort.

Vicky Petroff of Three Oaks teaches Beginning Guitar classes at the library.

She recently held her second session with students Ashley Hauseman, Annabelle Yanz and Jacqueline Hauseman.

“They’re on a scholarship from their church (Water’s Edge United Methodist in New Buffalo) so the church is paying for them to go for 10 weeks,” Petroff said.

Petroff said she worked at Roxy Music in La Porte, Indiana, shortly after graduating from River Valley High School in 1998. She learned to play guitar and gave lessons at the store.

Petroff said she got involved with the School of American Music after reading the organization’s introductory letter that appeared in this paper last January.

“I ended up donating stands and books and tuners and a variety of things to Garth — that’s how I met him,” she said.

Since then Petroff has created the artwork for Taylor’s solo CD being sold as a scholarship fund-raiser for the school, and, of course, signed on as one of its original instructors.

Taylor teaches Intermediate-Advanced Guitar on Friday afternoons.

Other School of American Music teachers include Gerry Muncie (Songwriting and Beginning Piano) and Priscilla Hellenga (in line to lead the next group of beginning guitarists and vocalists once that Saturday morning class is filled).

“Right now we’re expanding the students and expanding the teachers, and the trick is to expand them both at about the same rate,” said Taylor. “There are openings at all levels.”

Taylor said he makes no money from the school.

“This is my donation to the world,” he said.

Taylor said the other teachers have the option of donating their teaching time or receiving pay for their efforts.

“We have the capacity to record CDs, so we sell CDs to raise money to meet the operating costs of the school,” he said. “The teachers are also available to be hired to play music at events — that’s the other way we hope to raise money.”

Suggested donations for SAM classes are $20 for a one-hour session or $15 for a 45-minute session. but “the actual donation is the amount you choose to make.”

The school supplies pianos. Otherwise, students are asked to bring their own instruments. Assistance in obtaining instruments is available.

For more information on the School of American Music, call (269) 409-1191 or send an email to