David, one of my husband’s music students, rockin’ out at 29th Street Ballroom.
Recently, I got an email from a reader, Meg, asking me how Ross went about starting a music school. It was so sweet that I thought I’d share part of it with you:
“…you talked about your husband Ross and how he is a musician and teaches kid’s music. I’ve searched your blog, so pardon me if you’ve already written on this topic, but I would love to hear more about Ross and how he made that work.”
You are right, Meg! I haven’t written on that topic!
The whole time Austin Eavesdropper has existed, Ross’s music school has been lurking in the background. First it was a dream, then it was a series of loan applications, and now it’s an actual studio in our backyard. So! Here is the story of how he started his very own School of Rock.
The first thing you need to know, is that my husband is a passionate musician.
Maybe “passionate” isn’t even the right word. “Asperger’s” might be closer. The man literally practices music, usually drums or guitar, for at least three hours every single day. He has played in several bands, including that of Black Joe Lewis, riiiight before Black Joe got big and famous. (Hi, Joe!)
But, being a passionate/obsessive musician won’t pay the bills in a town like Austin. So in 2002 he got a job bar tending, and one day, a customer struck up a conversation with him.
CUSTOMER: Hey. You play guitar, right?
ROSS: I sure do!
CUSTOMER: My son would like some guitar lessons. Could you come over and do that?
ROSS: I sure can!
CUSTOMER: Great. Just know that his school has a special teaching approach, so you might want to keep that in mind when you come.
When Ross got there, he took out his guitar, and his customer’s six year-old son proceeded to show him how to play it. Did he know that the neck was for drumming? He did not. Or that the best way to form a chord was to play all the strings, all at once? No he didn’t, but we was so happy to have that finally clarified!
Needless to say, they didn’t do a lot of hardcore guitar instruction that day. But, the family loved him.
So Ross applied to become a teacher at the kid’s school, a little progressive private place operated out of the Perry Mansion. Soon, he started a music program in one of the spare classrooms, and kept on bar tending at night to supplement his income. This was about the time I met him.
Proto-selfie! As you can see, I took this with a regular camera.
We got married in 2007, and lived in an old pile of limestone with our friend Caleb. This was in Hyde Park, my beloved Hyde Park, and our house — down the street from the school — was right next to a creek. Our buddy Jason lives there now, and Caleb does too, and every time I visit I make it a point to stand next to one of the windows just so I can listen to the creek the way I used to.
In 2011, we got the scary news that the school was going to close. Which brings me to the second thing you need to know about Ross: he is extremely resourceful.
“You want to buy a house?” he asked me, just after we found out.
“With what?” I said. “Haha, just kidding. I want to buy a house. Seriously though: with what?”
Nevermind a down payment: He was already busy scheming. We asked one of the parents from the school to be our realtor, and together, the three of us looked for a place with a big enough backyard to build a music studio. Which was an adventure, involving driveway aesthetics, a part-man/part-wolf creature, and overall tests of marital mettle, but we finally, joyously found one. We moved in on the day Kate and William got married, and I remember because Perez Hilton and Nene Leakes were on TV narrating the festivities. (What channel was that on?).
That left one more hurdle: Convincing a bank to give us a building loan.
For months after we moved into our new house, Ross made phone call after phone call to banks, getting rejected every time. We didn’t have enough collateral, our income history wasn’t impressive enough, the recession was still going and banks were cranky.
“Maybe you should just rent a studio space somewhere else?” I’d suggest gently.
But NO – he was going to make this happen.
And you know what? He did.
Ross willed his little studio into being, and it’s now almost two years old! The construction took two months, and the structure is a feat of soundproofing: We had to make the walls extra thick so that the music (which includes, to my extreme delight, ACDC performed by 8-year-olds) wouldn’t disturb the neighborhood. Here’s what it looks like on the inside:
His school is called We Love Music (we’re still finishing the website), and these days, Roos works with 27 students a week. At first, all of his students came from our old school — the one that shut down — but now, it’s about half those students, half new ones. They range in age from 5 to 17, and take guitar, drums, bass, keyboard, and ukulele lessons. The school acts a recording studio too; Ross turns their music into polished tracks.
This is my favorite part, though. Often, Ross will form his students into kid bands, and they give themselves awesome band names like The Electric Sock Things and The Face Melters.
Henry, drummer for The Face Melters
Twice a year, the students of We Love Music have a recital at 29th Street Ballroom, where they get to perform their music chops live. Several of them play covers — there are a lot of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Tom Petty fans at his school — but lots write their own music. You may recall, for example, the most adorable song in the world, written by Ross’s student Mabry (pictured just above), which ended up getting played on KOOP for Valentine’s Day.
So, this is what Ross does full-time! It’s hard to support yourself as a musician, but it IS possible.
Every time someone asks me what my husband does for a living, I feel so proud telling them. I know. It’s cheesy! You are so allowed to roll your eyes. But, I think the reason the school is successful is because Ross is a gifted teacher. He doesn’t have a rote set of curriculum that he makes every kid work through; rather, he finds out what THEY are interested in (song writing, guitar solos, playing along to The Ramones), and shapes their lessons around that. His students have gone on to front critically-acclaimed Austin bands, like this one, and also to play their own gigs around town before they graduate high school. That’s not the goal for all of them — some of them just want to play drum-banging games with Ross for an hour — but no matter who they are, they always walk out of our studio grinning, feeling like genuine rockstars.
And I’m happy to be married to someone who makes kids feel that way.
(Thank you, Meg, for inspiring this post.)