Band of Teachers: Upstairs on Elm Street debuts at music school benefit

by David Johnson,  News Editor

Harbor Country News, published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013

ST. JOSEPH — School of American Music instructors don’t just teach music — they play it.

Upstairs on Elm Street, a band comprised of teachers from the Three Oaks-based School of American Music, made its debut in a March 16 find-raising concert at the Box Factory for the Arts in St. Joseph.

As school founder Garth Taylor put it prior to the performance, “We could either have a bunch of staff meetings or we could have a band, And the band seemed like a lot more fun.”

Priscilla Lee Hellenga, executive director of the School of American Music, said the group’s name has a direct correlation to the school’s physical location. “We’re on the second floor of the (Three Oaks Township Public) Library building. So we’re upstairs, and we’re on Elm Street!” she said.

Taylor said the first task of establishing the school was finding teachers. Assembling a staff that also can perform together is a big plus. “I always thought the faculty should have a faculty band as a way of kind of creating a community of musicianship around the school because you exchange a lot more ideas about music when you’re actually arranging and performing,” he said.

And not just for the instructors. “We want to start promoting our students as well as the instructors, so we’re going to be doing events around the community — New Buffalo, Three Oaks and Sawyer,” said Hellenga. “We’ve got several already scheduled, and our students will participate in some of those … they’ll all have this opportunity to graduate into the real world.”

Taylor said the school is “very performance oriented.”  “Don’t go there if you’re not planning to learn how to perform,” he noted during Upstairs on Elm Street’s debut.  Taylor said performances with the River Valley High School choir members are being organized and the band is slated to perform at the annual hog roast fund-raiser for Three Oaks’ Flag Day celebration and the June 22 Woodworkers with the Blues event at Center of the World Woodshop in Harbert. “Everything we do, the proceeds are going to go to the scholarship fund for the (non-profit) school,” Taylor said.

Once the members of Upstairs on Elm Street had been established, Taylor, who also teaches guitar classes, said it came down to “finding an evening during the week when we could rehearse and that everyone’s car would work so we can get there.”

Band members are: Taylor on guitar and vocals; Hellenga on guitar and vocals; Alyson Payne on vocals; Stuart Beach on mandolin; Bill Taylor on banjo; Dustin Anderson on cello; and Phil Anderson, a guitarist and vocalist who also plays as a duo, The Anderson Family, with his son, Dustin.

For the school’s teachers, playing in a band also can be a learning experience.  “It’s really new to me, I’ve played cello for about a year,” Dustin Anderson said. “I’ve really been enjoying it.”  Anderson said he and his father performed a lot at the Acorn Theater’s Pastiche open mic night, and learned of the school from Taylor. Soon he was a substitute guitar teacher there.

Garth Taylor described Upstairs on Elm Street as a “bluegrass/gospel” band during the March 16 concert. Selections performed by the group included: “Yard Sale” and a “Yooper” sing-along about deer hunting.

Taylor said the School of American Music currently has about eight instructors and 25 students. For more information, log on to