You can check out the open house all day Saturday, including a free infant/toddler group class at noon, and then there will be a party starting at 7:00 with beer, wine, snacks, and music from the staff.
The school should be an excellent addition to North Brooklyn and serve as a community arts hub for many years to come. It’s a great idea and I got in touch with Craig to learn more about the project.
It’s safe to say music is in Craig Howe’s blood. His father David is a former jazz trumpet player with a degree in Jazz Studies. Craig began playing sax at a young age and then switched to guitar in high school, which he studied in college. After, he spent time playing in bands while also working various jobs in the music industry, ranging from an assistant manager at CBGB & OMFUG to stage tech at SIR.
Craig discovered his love for teaching while serving as a counselor at a rock and roll songwriting camp. As he gained experience, he and his father got the idea to open a school of their own. Two years ago, they found their space at 400 Bedford Ave (at the corner of South 6th). They have spent the time since turning the “concrete box” into a beautiful facility, replete with rooms for private practice, ensembles, and lectures. All are soundproofed and stocked with gear from their neighbors, Main Drag Music. There’s also a nice lobby with couches and wifi for waiting parents.
Here’s what else Craig had to say about the Music School of Williamsburg:
GP: What is your vision for this project?
Craig: I want this to be a place where anyone can either learn to play an instrument in a comfortable, fun, low-pressure environment, or a place where musicians who already have experience can continue their studies and hone their skills.
GP: What programs and courses will the school offer? Who is on the staff?
Craig: Our primary focus is one-on-one, private instrumental/vocal lessons. They are the best way to learn. However, we’ve also got a group Master Class/lecture series on the way from some of the best touring musicians in the world (thanks largely to our friends at local venues like Music Hall of Williamsburg and St Vitus), ensemble groups when our enrollment is a bit higher, and various industry panel discussions planned.
We’ve got an amazing staff who are prepared teach you anything from strumming a Beatles song on the guitar to pounding out a Stravinsky piano sonata. These are paid employees comprised entirely of professional musicians who have both performance and teaching experience. All of them have music degrees. And all of them are really nice! It was important to us, when doing the hiring, that the teachers here were still on stage in some capacity. It keeps them sharp.
GP: Who can take the classes? What is the format?
Craig: Anyone can take classes here – children can start as young as three years old and no experience is necessary. It’s also never too late for an adult to pick up an instrument! Our lessons run by the half hour or hour and are generally at the same time every week. We follow the NYC Public School calendar (though we have no connection to the school system), have a generous cancellation policy, and are very flexible. We will hold optional recitals at the end of every semester at a neighborhood music venue so our students can show off their hard work.
GP: Why do you think musical education is important? Any meaningful personal experiences as an educator you’d like to share?
Craig: Besides the well-documented facts linking music education to higher test scores, cognitive ability, enhanced performance in other areas, music is in everything we do! It’s physical. Learning to sing and keep rhythm develops coordination. The air and wind power necessary to blow a saxophone or trumpet promotes a healthy body. Music is emotion, it’s an art form, and we are emotional beings who need artistic outlets and ways to express ourselves. And it’s for life! I’m not knocking sports (I’m very active myself) but I probably won’t be playing football when I’m 70. I know I’ll be singing and playing my guitar though! Teaching someone how to be musical is a gift that lasts their entire lives.
Being encouraged to play music from a young age helped me learn discipline, cope with hard times, and focus my energy into something positive. Sticking with it has allowed me to travel all over the world, make amazing friends, and hopefully made some other people happy. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I weren’t doing this.
I have a student named Chelsea Zak who I’ve been teaching guitar/vocals since she was in elementary school. She had never picked up an instrument. She’s 13 now and a total badass guitar player who writes her own songs and knocks them out of the park when she’s on stage. She was a student in the school I taught at in the suburbs, and when I opened the Williamsburg School of Music, her parents decided to drive her into Brooklyn every week instead of staying close to home. That really touched me. It made me feel like I was doing the right thing over here.
GP: How will this institution be connected to the local community beyond the lessons?
Craig: Besides the Master Classes/lectures, which will be open to the public, we’re unveiling a scholarship program in 2014 for kids. Hosting all of our end of semester recital concerts at local venues is also important to tie us in to the community here. We’ve made local connections for everything from contractors to teachers equipment supply. I live a few blocks away, which makes it even more important to me to help foster community. And it’s a great place for people of all ages to make friends.
GP: What music do you like? What are some favorite venues, record stores, studios, etc. around the neighborhood?
Craig: We had immense help and advice from Main Drag Music – they’ve actually opened up a small outpost in our lobby to provide things like picks, strings, reeds, drum sticks and straps. The good folks (Dave Castillo in particular) at St. Vitus and Over the Eight have been a huge help in setting up our Master Class/lecture series, and we’ll be doing our student concerts at St Vitus. Chris Cubeta, who owns GaluminumFoil Studios on the Southside (it’s awesome) will be recording any of our students who feel like laying down some tracks. Rachel Beider, owner-operator of Massage Williamsburg, is a good friend and entrepreneur who I leaned on heavily for advice.
I play drums in a Brooklyn (duh) band called IOLA. We’re pretty good! I still listen to angsty teenage music even though I’m in my 30’s. That and jazz.