A Community of Music

Overland Park’s Music House has a palpable sense of a collaborative success: creative vibes, a quiet buzz and an intense energy. You feel it immediately when walking through the front door.
Kids mill about with battered guitar cases in hand, while others clutch drumsticks, tapping every available surface. Adults lounge on overstuffed sofas reading Rolling Stone and perusing Guitar World magazine.
Down the hall, one of the school’s All-Star bands is in full-throttle practice in a 130-seat auditorium, the Hendrix Room has 10 guitarists practicing chords and the Mozart Room has six students poised over keyboards in the middle of a group class. The Wall of Fame features framed pictures of the school’s rock and jazz bands–smiling students with their instruments and chosen monikers like Hippie Aviators and Tropical Disturbance.
Aaron Sizemore and Katrinka Riggs, owners of Music House, have crafted a concept for teaching music to kids and adults that is as brilliant as it is simple and in the end, analogous to a common childhood dinner scenario. Remember when vegetables weren’t your favorite thing to eat? No doubt it was that gooey ice cream sundae at the end of the meal that really
motivated you to clean your plate and scrape the dreaded green peas or beans from your plate onto your fork and into your quivering mouth.
The duo–Sizemore, a 36 year-old professional jazz musician, and Riggs, a 30 year-old classically trained oboist–starts with that hypothetical dessert to jumpstart an individual’s interest in pursuing an instrument or expanding their musical horizon.
Rather than isolating a budding musician or vocalist in one-on-one practice, students at Music House are motivated to learn and grow their skills by participating in a community of musicians that jam, play and create on a collective canvas. Once students have gone through the group experience, they can move on to private lessons, but ultimately stay connected to other musicians.
Sizemore considers music a cultural art form based on the idea that to learn effectively there must be a strong community connection. He and Riggs strive to create a rich musical and cultural utopia at Music House, offering students much more than just a lesson or a class.
“I wish this type of approach would have been around when I was a kid,” says Riggs. “Although I chose music as a profession, I would have enjoyed the journey much more.”
Sizemore agrees that the sometimes lonely encounter a child has when picking up an instrument is a contributing factor to why those same kids often abandon a violin, guitar or clarinet. He says music education is frequently steeped in tradition, often from habit.
“It’s sometimes counterproductive,” says Sizemore. “Music educators agree that the methods don’t always work, but often time and resources are limited to foster a change.”
The community aspect of performance–a pool of like-minded musicians in sync–is inspiring and helps people identify an inner self-expressive spirit, he says.
“It’s so obvious now that I’m a teacher,” says Sizemore.
Sizemore and Riggs met in 2004 while giving private lessons. They had long conversations about the frustrations of teaching students who often lost interest or didn’t progress in lessons. The couple, now engaged to be married, agree theirs is a match made in musical heaven.
“We’re well-connected to some of Kansas City’s best working musicians,” says Sizemore. “It was easy to compile our dream team of instructors, including program director Dan Brockert and assistant program director Lucas Bingham, and a business plan to facilitate our vision.”
Sizemore and Riggs opened their business in 2007 with 80 students and ended 2008 with a 200-student roster and a bursting-at-the-seams facility. In January 2009, they relocated Music House to a building tucked in the back of an Overland Park office park, allowing them to create a music laboratory with rooms for group guitar, piano and drum lessons and individual spaces for private instrument and vocal sessions.
Music House boasts more than 500 students ranging in age from 6 to 60, 22 faculty members, two All-Star bands and genres including rock, pop, jazz and classical. Sizemore, known in Kansas City’s coveted jazz circles as a standout guitarist, says even if a child or an adult chooses not to pursue music beyond Music House, they still gain valuable life skills, encouraging them to be part of something bigger than themselves.
“We’re not just teaching music,” explains Sizemore. “We blend responsibility, accountability and goal-setting into the mix. Students have a sense of accomplishment and ownership when they see results of their hard work. Adult students gravitate toward music because it’s a terrific social and creative outlet.”
Music House has five semesters annually, each culminating in concerts showcasing students over two days. In addition, there are clubs, workshops, adult jams and popular intermittent Friday night socials to encourage parents, friends and family to see a variety of music and instruments in a live performance setting.
“One kid might play a Billy Joel song on the keyboard, and the next performer is an adult doing Bach’s Goldberg variations,” says Riggs. “The night might end with a smoking hot jazz number.”
Sizemore and Riggs designed an exclusive Music House curriculum, divided by age, each with eight different levels. The two admit they had an unexpected learning curve–in order to offer a diverse curriculum, that element must be cultivated.
“During the enrollment process, we interview everyone about what they like, what excites them in music,” says Riggs.
“Eventually we have students that come in through a rock group like Green Day and go out with an appreciation for someone like jazz icon John Coltrane,” adds Sizemore.
Eric and Renee Weissand of Overland Park have four children that have been involved with the Music House during the past three years. Renee says prior to discovering Music House the kids took private piano lessons.
“There were isolated and didn’t get the bigger picture,” says Renee. “We needed to bridge into something more positive.”
She says Sizemore’s and Riggs’s concept of peer collaboration struck a harmonious chord for her brood, including Eric who picked up the guitar and attended Music House.
Sizemore says his mind has been opened to the innovation of teaching music.
“Arrogance and close-mindedness in music is soul-killing,” he says. “I learn from the students and appreciate their enthusiasm.”
To learn more about Music House visit www.musichouseschool.com.

words by Kimberly Stern
photos by Abbe Findley