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