Sage Music is a music school that started in Long Island City and recently opened a second location in Greenpoint at 33 Nassau Avenue – in the same spot as PLAY.
The school’s founder, Jason Sagebiel, has a very unique backstory.
As a Marine serving in Iraq, he sustained a debilitating brain injury. With limited therapy available to him, he turned to intensive music practice as a way to regain his cognitive abilities. His success spurred him to create Sage Music.
Jason’s firsthand testimony of how studying music can have profound impacts on a person’s development and well-being, as well as his intellectual curiosity and inclusive spirit have led to a powerful and innovative approach to music instruction.
GP: You have an interesting backstory. What made you choose studying music as a way to help yourself after your injury? Did you have a background in music? Why do you think it was so helpful for your recovery and rehabilitation?
Jason: I started taking music lessons as a diversion from being sick with a lengthy illness when I was a teenager. So this wouldn’t be the first time that music helped me through some tough times. Upon reflecting on the question, it seems to make sense that music was one of the first things I turned to when I was injured because it helped me before.
Music was helpful for my recovery for two reasons. First, it is cathartic and healing in the emotional and spiritual sense. It gave me a way to deal with my injuries. Secondly, music performance is one of the most complex of all human activities. It requires sustained concentration (which I was lacking), expert memory (which I had trouble forming because of the concentration issues), incredible focus, impeccable fine motor control (which was damaged), and the ability to communicate artistically and emotionally, all done in front of an audience. The brain responds to exercise, and as I exercised my brain through music, I did see improvement in the areas where I had deficits. Music also provided me with goals, benchmarks. I was quite motivated to regain what I had lost, and my ability to perform was one marker of my recovery for me.
GP: What is some of your favorite music?
Jason: I’m going to steal an answer here from an old mentor of mine, a composer named Hannibal Lokumbe. He answered this question similarly, and it struck me as being true for me, too. I listen to good music. You can find good music in all genres. Currently you’ll find me listening to Alexander von Zemlinsky, Midlake, Gotye, The Cygnus Ensemble, Munir Bashir, Amalia Rodrigues, Maurice Ravel, Alban Berg, Tool, Jordi Savall, Marc Ribot, Johnny Cash, and a whole host of others.
You might ask then what makes good music? I think that good music is honest music, meaning something that the author believes in, and it’s something that someone took the time and care to develop.
GP: What is your vision and hope for this project? What distinguishes Sage Music?
Jason: My vision is simple. I want to help people achieve their goals. At Sage Music that is always in music, but I find that often we help people in many other ways that they did not expect, such as learning to be more communicative, becoming better at time management, improving concentration, and even being more fulfilled and happy.
Most schools simply hire performers and then let them teach. There is usually no training, and no oversight. The problem is that most music performers have no training in music education, and most music educators are only trained in general classroom techniques that don’t apply to private music instruction. In other words, there is no program that really trains or qualifies musicians to be private teachers. At Sage Music we fill that gap. We take skilled performers who are passionate teachers and train them in the best techniques for music education. We supervise their work to ensure every student receives the best instruction possible.
GP: You have a multi-disciplinary approach, incorporating elements of psychology, kinesiology, etc. I’m curious how that developed.
Jason: This developed out of a large body of research that I discovered while studying music during my own recovery. I was looking for any way to improve my own playing and learning. The research body of psychology has much to say about how we learn and process information, but that information is unfortunately not mainstream in education and music programs. It’s absolutely beneficial and crucial to the teaching process. Similarly, sports medicine and biomechanics fields have a lot to say about how to use one’s body efficiently without risking injury. Why wouldn’t one study these things when pursing music study? I often wonder why more musicians and educators don’t research and incorporate such strategies.
GP: Does the Greenpoint location offer as many courses as the Queens location yet?
Jason: Given the proximity of the two locations, the faculty is able to work at both locations so that we have the same programs. However, we are developing some new programs specifically for Greenpoint. These include an introductory class for children where they can try out several different instruments to see which they like, and a summer camp. We are also working on a few more new offerings.
GP: Who is on the staff?
Jason: Our teachers are permanent employees. As a group they have national and state certifications in music education in addition to the Sage Music certification. They have performed nationally and internationally as soloists at distinguished halls in Europe, Asia, and the Americas; in many styles ranging from classical to jazz to pop; and have performed with groups ranging from the Beijing Symphony Orchestra to Lady Gaga.
GP: Can you tell me a little more about the lessons? Is it all private or group-based, or a mixure?
Jason: Private lessons offer the best opportunity for someone to learn music. Group classes, while they are more profitable, are not the best for the student. So we offer private lessons where students can learn and host group sessions where students can apply what they have already learned in a group setting. This provides them with the best educational situation, as well as the social interaction afforded by group classes. Most of our group classes are free for currently enrolled students. We are also offering a few introductory group classes that students can take before committing to private study.
GP: Does Sage Music have any connection with the school system?
Jason: While we are not connected with the school system, many of our faculty hold state teaching certificates and are qualified to teach in the school system. We have done a few after-school programs in some schools, and are currently developing an after school program with another provider to offer music in public schools that don’t offer it.
GP: Why do you think musical education is important?
Jason: I think that education, in general, is very important. Education should be about teaching people to produce their own answers, to think for themselves, and to be productive members of our society. As I see increasing emphasis on math and science, as evidenced by the President’s pledge to increase funding for these subjects, we are squeezing out the humanities and the arts. We seem to rhetorically devalue music and art, preferring science and math, yet the US entertainment industry is our second leading export. This alone is a compelling reason to study music and art, if I can make such a logical argument for the study of something primarily creative in nature.
Additionally, music and the arts provide people with another way to think, another way to connect with others and express themselves, and another way to develop into well-rounded, capable people. We enjoy music and we listen to an average of five hours of music a day, so I believe we should know something about it. We read much less than that and we require literacy. I believe that we should understand the world in which we live, and music is certainly a part of that. So let’s have a holistic education that helps us to understand our world. I am happy to be able to provide the musical aspect of a well-rounded education.
GP: How will this institution be connected to the local community beyond the lessons? Will there be plans to host any events to the public and/or students?
Jason: We have already done a number of free concerts in senior centers, and on the Long Island City waterfront at Gantry Plaza State Park. We are currently planning our third summer series of the LIC Concerts (www.licconcerts.com) which are free and open to the public. Approximately 40 musicians performed over a three-week period.
We plan to continue providing concerts to the public, and plan to grow our connection to the public schools, as well as other charities. I’d also like to partner with and offer reduced rates veteran organizations and programs targeted for at risk youth. We are very much committed to being involved in the community.
GP: What are some of your favorite spots in Greenpoint?
Jason: I’ve been going to get my guitars repaired in Greenpoint at Pentatonic music for years. So I like that place. I’m also a member at Human at Ease, a gym nearby my new school location. The staff is friendly and helpful, and they limit the number of people at any given time so it’s never packed. I also like running at McCarren park, and frequenting a few restaurants and shops in the neighborhood. I often stop by to get coffee at Five Leaves on the way to the G train. I like both Greenpoint and LIC because they have so many unique businesses and people without being too trendy.