Victor Gann had been teaching guitar for a decade out of a suite on the downtown Sanger square when he decided to branch out in 2012.
“I thought, ‘You know what? There might be a need for more out here,’” said Gann, who’s earned his guitar chops through a mix of talent, dedication and a lot of playing. “I had people help me all through my career. I got into teaching because I wanted to help people who need it.”
When the space adjacent to the suite where he’d been teaching opened last year, the building owner told Gann he could put in a door to connect the suite to its neighbor. The addition made room for three more teaching studios. These days, Evia Music — which is a recording company as well as a music school — offers private lessons in guitar, bass, ukulele, music theory, songwriting, recording, drums, percussion, voice, piano, flute and clarinet. The label has recorded Gann’s music and projects by Melissa Ratley and Alyssa Reynolds.
“There are seven of us teaching,” Gann said. “I don’t look at myself as anyone’s boss. Whatever instrument a student gravitates to, they can study with one of the teachers here.”
Gann requires his faculty to have either a music education degree or “real world experience.”
The music school’s youngest student is 5 years old, and the oldest is a 92-year-old rancher who took up the guitar in his golden years.
“I teach some special-needs students, too,” Gann said. “I have a student with autism. His parents said he was interested and I said I’d give it a shot. We found that repetition was the key, and we found something called ChordBuddy.”
Gann shifted his already student-centered approach for his student with autism, making charts that use colors that correspond to chords. So far, the student has learned about 15 songs.
Gann said his approach to teaching is to follow the student’s goals and wishes. He won’t drill them on scales — unless they want to do scales — but works with students to accomplish what they want. Usually, that means teaching them how to learn a song they love with the proper technique.
He said his teaching staff is student-centered, too.
“I don’t have a specific teaching philosophy for them,” Gann said. “But I want them to be able to teach that student, and sometimes you have to play the counselor. I was looking for teachers with a methodology, but who can connect with the student.”
Voice and piano teacher Roma Maslak coaches each of her students according to their skill and their goals.
“I have a student with Down syndrome, I love to listen to her,” Maslak said. “She really sings from the heart. She likes singing musical theater. I have another student who loves to sing for her church — I’m easing her into classical music. I think the goal is to teach them about music, and not just to learn the instrument.”
Drummer Josh Cutlip joined Evia Music this year. He teaches drums and recording.
“I’d been wanting to get a drumming teacher in here,” Gann said. “I figured if we’re going to be local, I want someone local. Josh’s wife contacted me and said, ‘You’ve got this, this and this, but not drums. Check out my husband.’ She sent a video. Here’s this guy looking like Tommy Lee, hitting like Tommy Lee, hunched over the kit.”
Like Gann, Cutlip had been on the road as a touring musician. Both have played for major labels.
“There was an immediate kinship,” Gann said. “But I just didn’t have a place to put him.”
Once Gann expanded his school, he had a spot for a drumming instructor.
Like Gann, Cutlip said he takes cues from the students.
“You can usually figure out pretty quickly what they want, even if the parents want them to learn this kind of music this way,” Cutlip said. “I know how to teach the tempos — jazz, Latin — and really, just figuring out even a traditional drumline can get a student going.”
Gann said some students start asking questions about music theory. When that happens, Gann teaches through examples — any student who asks about music theory ends up listening to the Beatles.
Maslek said the staff keeps their eye on the prize with their students.
“Ultimately, we’re teaching the love of music,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s tedious stuff. To see them light up and have a good time and love music, that’s when you know you’re doing the work. I’m still a student, and it can be a beating. I want them to have fun.”
Gann said the best teachers are those who guide students through insecurity.
“For some students, self-confidence is what they really need to learn,” he said. “They’ll hear an Eddie Van Halen solo and say, ‘I’ll never be able to do that.’ I tell them, ‘You know what? When he was your age, he didn’t think he’d be able to do that, either.’ I’ll make up little games that teach a little piece of it. When they realize they can do it, you can just see it. That confidence grows.”