by Evelyne Vivies
If Grace Note Music Studio has the standard of excellence that you would normally expect from a top-notch New York music school, it’s because its owner, Andrew Kenefick, is a top-notch New York music teacher.
Soon after Andrew moved to Visalia six years ago, he launched into the creation of a New York-style music school for the area. “I realized that there was no legit music school for the 200,000 people living here, so I decided to start my own music school.”
An incredible variety and number of instruments are taught by musical masters here, including voice lessons.
Andrew sets a very high bar for the quality of his teachers. “I can’t deny that I’m very picky,” says Andrew. “What personally frustrates me is when people who are not good teachers let parents think they are entrusting their kids to a qualified teacher. Their kid’s not learning; that kid gets turned off from music their whole life. That really frustrates me.”
Grace Note Music’s students know they are developing their art with teachers who know what they are doing; they seldom leave or give up. “You’re going to have to look out for some of their names because they are going to be famous one day. I have a few that I know are going to be somewhere in five years. It’s a cool thing.
“It’s very easy for a talented musician or anyone who is good at their craft to think that they are also good at teaching their craft,” says Andrew. “But the truth is, it’s two different things. Especially with music. So I’ve had to turn down a lot of very talented musicians.”
Many of the 12 excellent music teachers at Grace Note have been there since the very beginning.
One of the newest teachers is the immensely talented, award-winning teacher and international performer, Steven Zimmer, who abandoned a flourishing musical career to take care of his mother after the death of his father. His vocal credits include winning the National Association of Teachers of Singing Award for two years in a row. “Steve is an incredible musician and teacher,” says Andrew. “Yet he is very humble. He’s always talking about how great his students are and is incredibly encouraging.” Steven is genuinely invested in the success of his students. He has prepared singers for “The Voice,” “America’s Got Talent,” and “American Idol” auditions in San Francisco.
He is not a cookie cutter voice teacher, for whom one technique fits all. He observes, and then utilizes what is best for each student to allow their voice to shine and become their own unique, great individual voice. “It’s like finding a gem or a jewel. I don’t want to change the gem, just polish it, like a rock that you polish into a gem or a jewel,” says Steve.
Having his students perform is important for Andrew. “No kid would go to soccer or football practice all the time if they didn’t get to play a game. Yet we expect kids to keep practicing in their bedrooms just because it’s good for them. Unless you’re getting some action you don’t care.”
Grace Note puts on recitals every quarter. Among its 160 students, about half perform. Recitals are in March, during the Summer, in the Fall, and right before Christmas. “Usually we do these at the Creative Center and at Mooney Grove Park in the Summer. They also perform at an open mic which Andrew hosts on the second Tuesday of every month at Barrelhouse Brewery. “I started doing that because some of my students have been with me for a while and needed something a little more adult-like. The basic format of an open mic is that anybody who has something to perform can sign up to perform live music. Our only rules are that it’s got to be family-friendly and everything has to be performed live; that’s been really successful. Usually around 20 people perform, including five or six of my students. Many are older adults in the community who are musicians. That’s something that I very explicitly wanted because it’s more the way people used to learn. You’re learning by seeing what the people are doing and asking questions about what they’re doing rather than being guided.”
Not surprisingly, people of all ages—artists and dreamers alike—gravitate to Grace Notes by sheer word of mouth. Twenty percent of the students are adults getting lessons from the master of the musical instrument that resonates with them. “We get people who tell us, for example, that they’ve always wanted to learn violin or that they played piano years ago and want to get back into it. It can be tough for working people to cut that time into their lives, but as you get older you can have this skill be ‘your thing’ that you’re good at. It’s an investment in your own life and in your own happiness. That’s really important because you float through your 30s, 40s, and 50s doing the family thing and watching TV, but then, when all the kids have moved out, you don’t know what to do with yourself,” explains Andrew. “Music is one of the easiest things to participate in that has a spiritual vibe, a kind of connection with the people around you. You can paint with other people, but you’re still painting by yourself. Music has a deeper spiritual vibe because it goes so far back in our lineage. People got together to eat and drink and they would sing songs. It makes a community.”
One of the first things you will notice upon entering the Grace Notes studio is its unique, artsy-shabby chic, coziness that comes from Andrew’s New York style. “From my experience in music studios in New York, you have to have individual rooms, like a house. I like the school to have colorful, cluttery individual rooms, with different instruments and books, house plants and little knick-knacks that people have made [for] me. It’s a place you’d want to sit down in and do your homework, eat food, and hang out, kind of like being at home complete with food and snacks available in the kitchen,” says Andrew.
So gather the kids and head for your lesson in Visalia’s New York house. Your first lesson is free.