Musically Minded offers classes, concerts and community
on April 28, 2011
Musically Minded Academy, a brand new school, community center and concert venue in Rockridge, opened its doors to students of every age this January. Singers, drummers, and classic pianists—no matter what their experience level—can find a place at this progressive, nonprofit facility.
The school occupies a substantial building on Broadway with a large main space that feels like a rec room and concert hall meshed together. Rows of chairs face a grand piano on a low stage, and couches dot the space’s perimeter. Biographies of Musically Minded’s prestigious faculty (musicians like guitarist Terrence Brewer, pianist Nina Ott and drummer Alan Hall are among them) line the walls, and a children’s play area takes up one corner—the Academy is notably family friendly.
CEO and founder Anna Orias, an East Bay native and a long-time piano teacher, started Musically Minded to fold many of her passions into one. “I thought, ‘What if I did a concert series here, had a dance studio here, did all my private music lessons, and had group classes that I’ve always wanted to do?’” said Orias. “I wanted to create a music center where people could come together.”
Tonight Musically Minded will host its first professional concert titled “Impromptu Jazz Show.” The show will feature Nina Ott, a jazz pianist who teaches at the academy, her husband Chris Lopes on bass, Chicago-based guitarist Jeff Parker (of Tortoise and the Chicago Underground Trio) and renowned drummer Scott Amendola (of the Scott Amendola Band).
Ott has been a professional musician, conductor and arranger for over 20 years—she’s taught at Berklee School of Music in Boston and performed with many contemporary jazz greats. Last week, she heard her old friend Jeff Parker would be in town, and wanted to put on a show.
“It was a spontaneous idea—the four of us have played together a few different times,” said Ott. “And Anna [Orias], being a very spontaneous and creative person, was like, ‘Yeah!’” Ott said people can expect to hear a wide selection of jazz tunes at the concert, including original compositions by herself, Amendola and Parker. There also might be a Thelonious Monk tune here and there, she said.
Ott is excited about the concert space, which is a little different than your typical jazz club. “This is a really cool venue because it’s new, and it’s a really great room with a casual vibe—musicians really like that,” she said. “Kids can come, there’s not that pressure to sell alcohol. It’s a casual kind of thing, and welcomes every kind of person.”
Although the academy just opened this year, Orias’ has been teaching music since 1996, when she began giving private piano lessons. Over the years, the project grew organically as Orias recruited new teachers and started offering lessons on different types of instruments, first opening a smaller studio, and then the larger academy.
Until last year, the entire operation was being run out of Orias’ mother’s garage in Oakland. When she noticed the space on Broadway was for sale, Orias hesitated—the move would mean expanding from 600 sq. feet to 6,000. After crafting a business plan with her husband, Michael, she opted to go for it. Now, Musically Minded Academy has three studios, three classrooms and the big open concert space in the main room, which is sometimes rented by other likeminded nonprofits who need a place to show or to work. Most of the instruments and furniture are either donated, on loan, or were found at bargain prices by Orias’ mother and mother-in-law.
The list of class options is also constantly expanding, and currently includes private lessons on ten instruments, including piano, drums and guitar. Group and ensemble lessons include a rhythm skills class, a seniors’ jazz combo, a blues band, and a youth choir. There are drop-in lessons, where adults with experience can come in on an irregular basis to practice and learn, but Orias encourages all her students to do what Musically Minded calls “the full program,” or signing up for classes for at least a year.
Continuity is a huge part of Orias’ philosophy when it comes to music education. She believes that people’s dedication to their instruments often falls victim to the pressures and scheduling of modern life, and to counter that, her students must commit to a full year at a time.
“People who take music lessons go through all of these issues, and eventually they stop. Whether its trouble practicing, or they lose motivation, it’s always something,” said Orias. “This program is about carrying people through all the ebbs and flows, so that it becomes a part of daily life.”
There are also other facets of the program that encourage dedication, including recitals, an ensemble class where students practice playing together, and an “optimal skills performance class” which helps students prepare mentally for performance. The center also makes CD copies of the students’ recorded performances so students can listen to and analyze themselves. For those who aren’t sure they can commit to a year but want to try, Musically Minded offers a two-month trial period where burgeoning musicians can check it all out.
The other way Orias keeps her students engaged is by hiring teachers like Nina Ott—people who have at least 15 years of teaching experience and work in a number of other professional settings as musicians. Choir director Rita Lackey gigs all over the Bay Area has performed with famed South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Guitar teacher Terrence Brewer is a staple on the jazz charts, and received SF Weekly’s music award for best jazz artist.
So far, Musically Minded has about 110 enrolled students, and the list is growing. Tonight’s performance will put it on Oakland’s map of concert venues, and will be just the first in a long series of similar shows. “We’re just trying to make it feel like a community place where you can get together and enjoy music and other people,” said Orias. “That’s what this space really does.”
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