For more than 14 years, Excel Music on Cross Creek Blvd. in New Tampa has been teaching private music lessons to students of all ages. But lately, something has been very different than “business as usual.”
Since March, all of Excel Music’s students have been taught exclusively virtually.
“The nature of in-person music lessons doesn’t permit social distancing,” says Excel Music owner John Thrasher, “so we’ve chosen to do virtual lessons.”
He says the school’s building, located in the Cory Lake Isles Professional Center on Cross Creek Blvd., has remained closed since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March. However, Excel Music’s 20 teachers and dozens of students are as active as always, teaching and learning from their homes.
John says all of Excel Music’s teachers are either university trained (many with Master of Music degrees) or they have at least 10 years of study and performing experience.
The music school offers lessons in voice and practically every instrument, with piano, violin, guitar and drums being the most popular, according to John, and quite a few students learning brass and woodwind instruments, too, such as trumpet, tuba, saxophone and clarinet.
Students work with the same teacher week after week, so although their teachers are now only on a computer screen, the student still know them.
“It provides some normalcy and routine in their lives, when a whole lot of normalcy and routines have been removed,” says John, who adds that the school has continued to add “a steady stream” of new students throughout the pandemic.
“Obviously, parents are just as interested in improving their children’s lives as they always have been,” John explains. “Music is still important, and virtual lessons are kind of the only way that you can do it right now.”
A Little Background Music…
John and his wife Sheri originally opened Excel Music in 2006, with the dream of providing the opportunity for young people to be trained for the kinds of careers and lives they once experienced themselves.
“We both had long careers in music, and were professional musicians who were able to make a living performing,” John says, adding that he was the drummer for country singer Mickey Gilley for many years, which gave him the opportunity to perform on TV, at the White House and for people all over the world.
In the 1990s, John and Sheri had success together with a band of their own in Japan called Tz, where he says they sold tens of thousands of CDs. They also found themselves immersed in a culture that revered teachers, which led them to start thinking about passing on the knowledge and experience they had gained to the next generation.
“We met tremendous people, saw great places, and made a living,” John says. “We started thinking, ‘What if some of the kids who come through our school can experience what we’ve experienced?’”
However, John says he and Sheri recognize that the vast majority of their students will not go on to have professional music careers.
“Our teachers are good enough for that type of student, but most of our students will go on to have another career, such as a doctor or lawyer or something else,” he says.
He adds that the goal at Excel Music is to provide students with an appreciation for music, plus provide the benefits of learning how to play and/or sing.
“There’s so much data about how great studying music is for your brain for spatial learning and big-picture thinking,” John explains. “There are always studies coming out saying that because music is a whole brain activity, when kids learn music, their math and other school skills improve, too.”
Kristy Sargent, who lives in West Meadows, says her 10-year-old daughter Regan has been taking piano lessons for more than a year with Excel Music.
“Both the school and her teacher have been so amazing,” says Kristy. “They’ve been very flexible with being online. It hasn’t been easy to have everything change so much, but they’ve done a really, really good job.”
Kristy says one of her favorite things is how well the teachers communicate. “It’s a fantastic school that feels very personal. It feels like they really care about you and your child.”
The Right Teachers, Too
John and Sheri want each one of their students to feel that way, so they carefully choose only the best instructors.
They ensure that every teacher they hire to work at Excel Music is background checked, has appropriate credentials, and truly knows both their instrument and how to teach it. John says that just because someone has a doctoral degree in music or some other accomplishment,that doesn’t mean they will relate well to teaching students.
“They have to know how to teach, which is a completely different set of skills,” explains John, who says that — over the last 14 years — he has tried to show New Tampa families that they can trust Excel Music to make great decisions about who to hire to teach for the school.
He says two teachers have been with Excel Music since it opened in 2006, and a number of others have stayed with the Thrashers for five, six, or eight years.
“We definitely have stability,” he says. “We’ve been doing this for a long time.”
Age Doesn’t Matter
And, while many of Excel Music’s students are kids, the opportunity to learn to sing or play an instrument is certainly not limited by your age.
“A lot of adults want lessons, too,” says John. “We get retired people who say they’ve wanted to play their whole lives, and now they’re finally going to do it.” He fondly recalls a man who came to Excel Music to learn how to play the trumpet at 86 years old!
John says the last few months have been extremely trying and that he and Sheri — like virtually all small business owners — are just trying day by day to make the best decisions they can for their company, their employees and their customers. However, at the end of the day, they feel really good about the nearly 15 years they’ve spent leading Excel Music in New Tampa.
“We’re putting music in people’s heads,” he says. “We’re not making widgets that end up in landfills; we’re doing this thing that’s good for our community and for the world in general.”
Excel Music, located at 10353 Cross Creek Blvd., Suite I, is open for virtual lessons only right now. For more information or visit ExcelMusic.org, call (813) 991-1177.