By Michael Murillo
You’ve never played before. You don’t own any instruments. You can’t read music. You think you’re too young to learn…or maybe too old to learn. It’s been too long since you played. You don’t know anybody with the experience to teach you.
People often have a myriad of excuses for why they don’t pursue their dream of making music, but the owners of one local studio located only minutes from Wesley Chapel say all of these excuses can be overcome.
Since 2006, Excel Music, located in the Cory Lake Isles Professional Center on Cross Creek Blvd. in New Tampa, has been teaching students of all ages and skill levels how to improve their playing, learn something new or, often, pick up an instrument for the very first time. And, according to Excel owner John Thrasher, overcoming those objections and finding the time to play music is always worth the effort, especially if you’re a busy adult who deals with a lot of stress in your life.
“Many people find (learning to sing or play an instrument) to be a great way to relax,” Thrasher says. “Music tends to require your full attention, making the stresses of the day fade into the background.”
For more than 25 years, Thrasher and his wife Sheri have been using music to reduce stress and maintain their own successful careers. Playing since he was seven, John has made appearances on several television shows (“The Joan Rivers Show,” “Solid Gold” and “Hee-Haw”), performed during telethons hosted by Lou Rawls and Jerry Lewis and played at such venues the White House and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN. Between them, the couple has sold tens of thousands of records, and performed live in front of everyone from foreign dignitaries to two U.S. presidents.
Their focus now, however is on the hundreds of their current Excel students and their ability to develop and enhance each student’s talent. John says the demand is always highest for piano and guitar lessons, as well as voice improvement, but Excel students also can learn to play more exotic instruments, such as the marimba (a percussion instrument where bars are arranged like a piano and struck with a mallet); the tabla (hand drums played with fingers and palms); plus violin, tuba, saxophone and many more.
John says there aren’t really any limits for student ages, either. He described Excel’s classes as being for ages four and older, with little else keeping students from learning to play an instrument.
“We can assist students at any skill level and with any style of music,” he says, noting that Excel once taught an 86-year-old man to play the trumpet.
In order to educate a large number of students on a wide variety of instruments, John says the quality of the instructors is key. He says that while some schools offer online classes, he doesn’t believe online instruction alone can provide the instruction necessary for a truly strong music education.
“Music is a discipline which really requires a skilled, interested and dedicated private instructor,” he explains. “There are a great number of subtleties which demand that a teacher be physically present in order to hear, see and assist in the nuances of developing musical skills.” All Excel instructors are university trained, and many of them have Master’s degrees. The Thrashers will only hire instructors who not only perform well themselves, but also can teach well and relate to students with a true interest in their progress.
The strong faculty allows Excel to offer different types of lessons as well: In addition to traditional music instruction, they also offer special group experiences. In “Rock Band,” students join together to form rock and roll bands and play classic and contemporary rock staples with other students of similar skill levels (think “School of Rock”). In “Glee Group,” students mimic the popular television program and sing a variety of songs with other vocalists of different ages and ability levels.
Excel also offers at least two recitals each year. While participation in the recitals is never required, the events are designed as low-pressure opportunities for students to show what they’ve learned and demonstrate their abilities on stage in a supportive atmosphere.
“I have been taking piano at Excel now for more than two years,” says local resident Linda McGann. “Before finding Excel, my experiences taking lessons were not all positive. But, I have had several instructors during my time at Excel and it is very obvious that a high level of professionalism is required of all of the staff. It truly is a top-shelf environment in which to pursue learning music.”
Students can even rent instruments from Excel that they don’t already own or don’t want to buy, the school offers classes six days a week and the company is run by individuals who have used their own backgrounds in music to create a positive learning experience for students of all ages. The goal is to help people overcome obstacles that prevent them from pursuing their musical goals, and John says he gets special satisfaction from seeing students improve, describing that “a-ha!” moment each time a student recognizes that they’ve learned a new skill. He adds that watching them play live also is special.
“The performances are also a great joy,” John says proudly, “because we get to see the progress of each student over time, and to relive a bit of our own early music excitement through watching our students play.”
For additional information about lesson times, registration and general information, call Excel Music (10353 Cross Creek Blvd.) at 991-1177 or visit ExcelMusic.org.