Carmel Music Academy

This story originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Carmel Magazine.

John Mellencamp and Jon. E. Gee on bass. Photo courtesy Sarah Wiley.
Jon E. Gee has been playing bass with John Mellencamp since 1999. Photo courtesy Sarah Wiley.

There are no barriers to entry into the arts, and Jon E. Gee and his wife, who was given the nickname “Mrs. Gee” by a tour accountant of John Mellencamp, embrace this concept by welcoming a wide range of ages into the Carmel Music Academy.

“No one is too young or too old to learn how to play,” says Mrs. Gee. Since opening in 2011, their youngest student was under two years old and their oldest has been in their 80s. 

Each of their music rooms contain multiple instruments. At the Carmel Music Academy, they feel that exposure to other instruments is important for growth.

“A student will ask, ‘Can I try that?’ and point to a guitar or a bass,” says Jon E. Gee. “And we say, ‘Sure! Let’s finish with your piano lesson and then you can pick that up.’ Perhaps thegravitation to another instrument leads them to something that sparks an even deeper passion for music.”

The philosophy of the Carmel Music Academy is “the instrument will find the musician”. Case in point is the story of Jon’s musical journey to the bass. 

When Jon E. Gee was sixteen he was introduced to a band that needed a bass player. When asked if he played bass, Jon E. Gee replied, “Yes!” He didn’t. He immersed himself in learning how to play this new instrument and from that day on he played bass every day. In fact, he remembers the first day he didn’t play it. 

“I was 24 years old and it was a Sunday,” recalls Jon E. Gee. “And I loved playing! It was the biggest rush of my life to play in a band.”

The method of teaching at the Carmel Music Academy may be considered unconventional, but it is natural to human instinct. 

“We teach how to read music, but we don’t teach it first,” says Jon E. Gee. “The students learn theory very quickly once they start playing well. By playing first, they are listening and have reference points to the music. Reading music is easier once you are already playing. It suddenly makes sense to them – they get the connection.”

Jon. E. Gee on stage playing bass. Photo courtesy Sarah Wiley.
Jon. E. Gee on stage playing bass. Photo courtesy Sarah Wiley.

The Carmel Music Academy teaches music the same way we learn to speak. When we learn to speak as children, we begin with sounds. An infant is not handed a manual on the proper way to create these sounds. There is no coach other than excitable parents when a baby coos. Speech is intuitive and learned, initially, through mimicking sounds and is refined naturally over time. First by creating sounds, then words, sentences, and finally, formal structures. This process is parallel to learning music. At the Carmel Music Academy, music theory is peppered into the lessons once someone has the sight, sound, tactical, and auditory experience of playing.

It’s a fact that a lot of rock stars don’t read music. When the famous guitarist Chet Atkins was asked if he could read music, he replied, “Not enough to hurt my playing.”

Muscle memory is powerful. Having a multi-sensory experience with music makes it easier to retain. Written music was created for communication purposes, which transcends across all spoken languages. This methodology is intuitive learning. Those who only know how to read music, very seldom retain their musical ability.

The Carmel Music Academy creates a family that reaches beyond the lessons. Some of the Carmel Music Academy graduates are doing big things in the arts: one played with Sugarland, one was in Jersey Boys, and others have toured with professional acts. One former student, who is now a doctor, lives in New York City and has his bass on a stand in his office on top of his desk. This clearly identifies his passion for music.

“Our goal is to make musicians for life,” adds Mrs. Gee. even if they don’t play professionally, they still play, they remember the life lessons.

A strong sense of community is experienced by students of the Carmel Music Academy. Many have performed at Walt Disney World and around the state of Indiana. Locally, Carmel Music Academy engages with the Carmel Community Playhouse, the Cat Theater, th Carmel Gazebo, and Carmelfest. They have also performed at Pinheads in Fishers and the Indiana Landmarks Center. One goal is to have their students perform at Carnegie Hall. 

Jon E. Gee’s passion for music philanthropy extends beyond Indiana. He serves as an Honorary Board member for Little Kids Rock, an organization providing the resources for children who don’t have the resources for musical instruments. Other board members include Carlos Santana, Ziggy Marley, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, and B.B. King. Little Kids Rock provides music education and opportunities for underserved areas. They are in 45 states, helping over 400 school districts with the resources to ensure music stays in schools. 

“The Carmel Music Academy is the place that I never had as a kid,” says Jon E. Gee, who was discouraged from pursuing a career in music by music teachers. “We have a couple students that I think should be signing autographs now. The point is: If you love it, if you really love it, you need to pursue it.”

The Carmel Music Academy focuses on fostering passion and purpose with music. Jon E. Gee and Mrs. Gee’s efforts speak loudly for how much they love what they do. They know there are no barriers to entry to music, and if one is passionate, the Carmel Music Academy will nurture that individual.

Drawn to Inspire

Formey Disney Illustrator Amy Duarte now calls Zionsville home

This story originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Zionsville Magazine. Download a PDF copy of this story as it was originally published.

Amy Duarte has been drawing since she was old enough to hold a crayon. Her earliest memories are of creating art. When she was five years old, she saw the movie Cinderella and told her parents authoritatively, “That’s what I want to do!”

Miraculously, at this young age, Duarte knew that she wanted to be an artist for Disney. No small goal for a young, deaf girl living in Indonesia.

Amy Duarte and her family

The previous year, Duarte began speech therapy.

“My mom knew that it would be beneficial for me, long term, to learn how to talk and to lip read,” she says. “My mom rewarded me with Kentucky Fried Chicken after my challenging therapy sessions.

I am so grateful for her pushing me to do this. Speech therapy likely saved my [professional] life and to this day, when I pass a KFC, I smile.”

Duarte’s parents strongly encouraged her to follow her dream of working as an artist for Disney. When Duarte was 14 years old, she moved to LA with her mom. While earning a degree in art at Cal State Northridge, Duarte would illustrate her letters to friends. One of her friends had left a letter of Duarte’s on her coffee table when a guest saw it and asked to meet the artist. This created a side-hustle for Duarte. She began storyboarding commercials for companies, including McDonald’s, Snapple and Hanes.

“It was the perfect part-time job for me during college,” she says.

The art students were encouraged to apply for internships at the start of their junior year. To Amy’s excitement, spots were available with the Walt Disney Animation Studios. Around 1,400 applicants applied for 15 highly coveted spots. Duarte’s application was accepted. She was subsequently offered her dream job of being an artist for Disney.

In her 20 year-long career with Hollywood, Duarte worked a number
of animated features including Atlantis (her first film with Disney), Home on the Range and Bolt. Some of the movies that she has worked as a Senior Visual Effects Artist include: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Ironman, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Throughout her career, Duarte has worked on more than 30 major motion pictures.

Aside from drawing, Duarte’s other love is horses. Her love of equestrian sport led her to meet Max Duarte on the polo field at a club in Los Angeles.

“I’ve always been a horse girl since I was very small,” she says. “It started when my mother would take me to pony rides at the park near my grandmother’s house in Bandung, Indonesia. My parents signed me up for proper horseback riding lessons near our home [in Jakarta]. I got into the world of dressage and show jumping and competed in several Southeast Asian international competitions. As an adult, I eventually ventured into the world of polo, starting at the California Polo Club in Los Angeles.”

Now living in Zionsville, Duarte continues her animation and graphic design work. She is also an accomplished children’s book illustrator, with “Angels Amongst Us” and “Coming Down, Looking Up” (written by Marian S. Taylor) as several of the titles of the books already published. Duarte and her husband Max live near family where their children can enjoy playing with their cousins and, conveniently, a polo field is nearby.

I think it may be inspiring for young children to see me on YouTube and think ,’Hey, I could do that!’

— Amy Duarte

Duarte posts many of her personal collection of illustrations to Instagram and recently started a YouTube channel where she discusses the creative process of her artwork.

“I think it may be inspiring for young children to see me on YouTube and think, ‘Hey, I could do that!’” says Duarte, who admits that she was nervous to post her first video due to her less than perfect speech. The reviews are five star.

To learn more about Duarte, visit or find her on YouTube and Instagram at @amyduartedesigns.

The Love Train / Department of Public Words

Indianapolis Love Train

A couple years ago, I walked out of a meeting with DeveloperTown Founder/Partner Michael Cloran with my head about to explode (he’s one of the smartest people I know and quickly discovered that in order to absorb and follow his mental processes I need to toke up on dark chocolate and green tea about 30min prior for maximum absorption) and as I walked out of their building, I saw the mental balance I was needing after my meeting: art. Specifically, the Love Train mural created by the Department of Public Words along the Monon Trail between 52nd and 54th street. I breathed deeply, walked toward the long mural, reading all sorts of amazing messages of positivity that adorn it. Over 270 positive phrases are shared along the 600’ mural, which required 300 volunteers to create.

Megan Jefferson, one of the members of the Department of Public Words, was out that day with her stencils, spray paint and her boys, adding wheels to the freight cars.

Megan quickly became one of my favorite people and is involved with one of the best non profits in existence. Truly – I have a thousand and one reasons to support this…just ask me! (

Megan is a compliment to her partners and DPW Founders, Dave and Holly Combs, who also fall into the “favorite people on the planet” category. Holly, Dave, and Megan are all equally gifted and talented in their own artsy super hero ways. Each are funny, brilliant, amazing, loving, and artistic beyond comprehension.

I’m so impressed with them and their work and feel that it needs to be shared and go viral that I might have written about them a few times:

and perhaps this:

The Department of Public Words was asked to be the April speaker for the #CMINDY Creative Mornings meet up. The topic was RISK. Each of them have their own story and have taken risks, and they are living their lives as artists and are earning a living by doing what they love. While I am already familiar with their story, I heard it differently that morning since I am a different person than I was a couple years ago when first introduced to them. Here are my takeaways:

Holly has a TEDx Talk on How Stickers Saved Her Life.

While Holly was making dinner one night, she was interrupted by her son who wished to share something with her. He drew a picture and wrote the words “I love you!” on the page and told Holly that people don’t hear this enough. So Holly and Dave made 100 stickers with “I love you” on them and let their kids pass them out.

Harmony DPW

Holly and Dave are legendary for their “ban comic sans” campaign. The best video depicting them on this topic is on the Huffington Post Influential Innovators site.

Another favorite project of theirs is the “Breath” mural on the north side of a building that faces DeveloperTown. The mural depicts an exhale, and if you really want to geek out about it, they embedded the words “technology” and community” in binary code! (I am NOT joking when I say these people are freaking cool!)

Another fun story about DPW: Dave is a Rose Hulman grad. While he was at school, he created fliers for a fictitious missing turtle who responds to the name “Roland”. He received calls. Not having the heart to share that it was a joke, he gratefully took in the turtles and let them go into the wild. (side note: I read a review of Rose Hulman by a female grad when my daughter was looking at schools and one read, “The odds are good, the goods are odd…”)

DPW is probably best known for their YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL sign atop the Murphy Building in Fountain Square. One day the Combs family was driving along 10th and Rural and Holly looked up and asked Dave to stop the car. She had an overwhelming feeling to paint “you are beautiful” atop a building immediately…like NOW. Holly knew that inner voice and listened. Dave went to buy a gallon of green paint while Holly walked inside to get permission from the building owner. The owner not only granted permission, he helped.

A few weeks later, Holly and her daughter were inside Starbucks after her daughter broke her arm. As they walked in, a man smiled at them. Holly told him he had a beautiful smile and made her day. She noticed he had a cast on his leg. Her daughter and the man talked while Holly was getting her order. Holly noticed his other leg was amputated. As Holly returned to the man and her daughter, she thanked him for speaking with her daughter and handed him a “you are beautiful” sticker. He said, “10th and Rural!”

Holly smiled and said, “yes”. He then shared that a couple weeks ago he was heading home to end his life and got off the bus at the corner of 10th and Rural and looked up and saw the sign “you are beautiful” and it gave him the courage to make it through his healing ordeal with having one leg amputated and one in a cast. It gave him hope that he was valuable and pushed him through feeling sorry for himself.

Holly, Dave and Megan don’t know all of the stories of the positive impact of their work, but they’ve heard enough to know that they are validated: what they are doing is important and impacting lives.

“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” – Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry.

My April Fools Adventure with Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield
Dan Wakefield

Ok, so Dan Wakefield and I share a meal frequently. He’s a mentor of mine and we enjoy finding quiet restaurants with good food where the tables are not too close together so we can talk.

On Friday, April 1st, we planned to go out to dinner. Midday I receive an email from Dan that we have been invited to a gallery exhibit of his friend, Will Higgins, who is a writer for the Indy Star.

En route to The Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (IMOCA), Dan offers full disclosure of the exhibit. “It’s a collection of presidential urine samples that Will has amassed. I hear Bill Clinton’s is the largest bottle.”

WHAT?! I thought perhaps Will had a hobby of painting or photography, but urine collection? Presidential urine specimens?

Dan and I find a place to park and proceed around the block to the assumed location of IMOCA, per my GPS. We search the Murphy Building in Fountain Square, which hosts an array of artists and restaurants. We pass a gaggle of people gawking at a window, but they look as if they are overflow from one of the popular restaurants along the strip waiting for a table. We finally locate the IMOCA and enter.

Alas, where is the urine?

Accepting the inevitable conclusion that we have been taken for April Fools, we cross the street to a restaurant appropriately titled End of the Line (where the street trolley ended back in the day) and commiserated about the prank. At Dan’s behest, I email Will from my phone to enquire about the location of his urine, copying another friend of Dan’s, Travis Dinacola. Travis was also invited, yet declined (the smart one at this point).

During dinner, I erupt in spontaneous fits of laughter given the circumstances. Dan holds up his glass and says, “Look, I have found the urine of President Buchanan!”

Dan and Mike
Dan and Will

Walking back to the car, we pass along the Murphy Building frontage. Immediately in front of the IMOCA was a large display window with the entire collection of Presidential urine! The gawkers I noticed earlier may have been waiting for a dining table, but they were certainly entertained by the exhibit behind glass (which is as close to Presidential urine as I’d like to be).

Celebrating 100 Years of Presidential Urine: a salute to the ASPUC (American Society of Presidential Urine Collection. Mission statement: To foster integrity, cohesion and (where possible) dignity within the U.S. Presidential urine collecting community.

Curator: Will Higgins


Presidential UrineWhen was the ASPUC founded?

Presidential urine collecting began in earnest right after the Civil War and became a source of status among wealthy New York families. The ASPUC, however, was not formed until August 9, 1916.

Why not until then?

The discovery nearly 1915 of a previously unknown vat of Martin Van Buren caused widespread excitement, but later when it was revealed as a hoax, public outcry threatened to undermine presidential urine collecting. Amid calls for strict government regulation, or even a total ban, and in the absence of an over-arching sanctioning body, leading urine collectors gathered at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. July 4-6, 1916 to hammer out best practices. The ASPUC was incorporated one month later.

Who collects presidential urine?

Our members are cross-section of America. They include doctors, lawyers, firefighters, civil servants, clergy, and shoe sales personnel.

What does a membership cost?

Dues are just $10 a year, which entitles members to a subscription to ASPUC’s semi-annual electronic newsletter.

Can anyone join?

Sure. We welcome anyone with a sincere interest in presidential urine, whether they be serious collectors, scholars or just interested members of the public.


Dear God. I thought I did crazy things to entertain myself. It’s time to up my game!


Creating Our Own Mythology

creating our own mythology 1
Kara Kavensky with Artist Walter Knabe

The feeling of coming home is the best way that I can possibly describe how I feel when I gaze upon work by Walter Knabe. As I walk into his studio, I inherently take a deep breath, for his art settles me. I’m grounded by the visual elements of interest he utilizes in his work. I find his use of color nurturing to a portion of my soul that seems insatiable for his aesthetic.

This is the reaction art should have.

Knabe’s esthetic is a hybrid of antiquity and the modern, with a tangible timelessness which makes every piece of art Knabe creates feel like it’s ahead of it’s time, yet classical simultaneously. Knabe believes art helps create your own world, creating your own mythology.

“You get to ‘create your own mythology’ with art,” Knabe said to me. “People should feel empowered to create their own world with their own intellectual bent on things – thus creating your own mythical world. I ask clients to envision their dreams and ask what inspires them.”

Walter’s approach to his art matches that of my writing process. When I interview someone, I always find out what it is that they love.

creating our own mythology 3
Artwork by Walter Knabe

Knabe’s art is well-known across the country and around the globe, and yet proudly calls Indianapolis home. He used to live in NYC and studied with Warhol. His client list is a ‘Who’s Who’ across the globe. I used to spend time in his studio while it was located in the Stutz building, walking in one day to find him getting off a call with Drew Barrymore.

Knabe began his career creating large wall murals. Warhol said, “Jerry Hall has an empty wall, go paint something”. These large murals influenced Walter’s hand-painted and hand silk-screened wallpaper. He continues to evolve, expanding his offerings through a wide variety of mediums.

creating our own mythology 4
Artwork by Walter Knabe – “Everything that you imagine is real”

Today, there are new tools at Knabe’s disposal to utilize for his creations, such as digitizing techniques. This tool helps expand Knabe’s pattern collection, allowing for a selection of eight hundred colors. Eight. Hundred. Colors. Knabe is a kid in a candy store of his creation – a lab for his mythology.

What’s perpetually fascinated me about Walter since I met him 17 years ago, is his process. He doesn’t know what he is painting when he starts. It’s like his body knows a language he can’t yet translate except to allow it to flow through him, using his body as the vessel. At some point he steps back and says, “Hello! I know what this is.” It’s at this moment, the acknowledgment of the creative element and the creator become one.

In my storytelling presentation that I share with business owners, I strongly encourage fostering creativity. It’s a requirement for success. Brene Brown recently stated, “The only unique contribution we make in this world will be born of creativity.”

Artwork by Walter Knabe
Artwork by Walter Knabe

What amazes me is that Walter lives in that space of creating unique contributions almost daily. Some of us would be happy with one bolt of creative inspiration, spurring us to create our own masterpiece, regardless what our canvas is. Mine is writing, although I feel I do as much or more speaking than typing.

When Walter stated that he wanted to inspire others to “create their own mythology” I took that challenge to express what that is – what that looks like, how it feels. His expression of elements of his mythology is through art. While mine may be partially expressed through purchasing his art, I write and re-write my story on a daily, if not hourly basis. We all have that power – to change our story. If you don’t love where this chapter is taking you, write a new one – and make it of mythical proportions.

Kara Kavensky

Kara Kavensky