Walking down the hallway at Rieman Music, it is impossible not to sneak a peek through the full-length glass doors appearing every six to eight feet. Music lesson rooms. Although it feels like walking through the Snake House at the Iowa State Fair. What is hidden inside that room? Or the next? Is that snake poisonous? How strong is this glass? Where is that python, anyway?
But instead of a snake, there’s a student holding a violin, gliding her bow back and forth as the teacher taps his hand against the music stand. In the next room over, a young girl plays the plunky notes of a piano as the teacher turns the pages of music. And through that door is a young flute student trying to copy her teacher’s spidery finger movements. My goodness. Saxophones, violas, guitars, harmonicas, clarinets, drums, trumpets. You name it, it’s here. A door for every instrument.
“The ages of my students? Well, I have a student in 2nd grade and I’ve taught a women who was 66. It is easier for that 2nd grader to do it. So you might have to work harder if you’re older. But if you love it, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Gabe Scheid looks like an old jazz standard. Goatee, thin upper body, dark eyes. Cradled in both arms or held in a firm hand is whatever instrument he’s teaching or playing. Where his love lies is not a mystery.
“I was born in Sioux City, a great place to grow up. I got my BA in Jazz Studies at the University of Northern Iowa, then I went to the University of Northern Colorado and got my Masters of Music Degree. In the jazz education world, UNC is in the top three.”
Gabe ended up in Des Moines with his wife, who is pursuing studies at Iowa State.
“So I came back and tried to build a student base for private lessons. I tried to make connections and go to gigs. I’ve been told that if you are doing anything in the music field and you’re making money and surviving, you are lucky as hell. I’ve been humbled by that. I’m not making a lot of money and I’m fine with that.”
Gabe went to Rieman Music in Ames and Urbandale and had some luck. He is now teaching over two dozen students in saxophone, clarinet, flute, and viola.
“Teaching is by far the most money in my budget, and it takes quite a bit of my brain power, and I’m happy with that — I love teaching. I love seeing kids make strides and get self-confidence. I like doing lessons. I am humbled by many things, but teaching fits me, as well as performing.”
Really? You’re just saying that because that’s what you’re supposed to say, right?
“Listen, my youngest is a little Iranian boy, he’s going into 2nd grade. He’s a boss. He’s hilarious. He’s a little genius. He practices every day for about a half hour. I ask my students to do 10 minutes. He’s already better than some of my 7th and 8th grade students. He’s flying. He’s already writing his own music. Last week he wanted me to give him some blank manuscript paper. I love to do that. I’ve taught composition before. I compose my own music. He was like, I really want to do this. And I would love to fuel that.”
Okay, that must be a rare exception.
“No, I’ve got a student who has hearing issues. He and I performed together at his middle school talent show. He plays viola and saxophone. Seeing him grow from the first lesson to the lesson yesterday is amazing. For viola, I put tape on the fingerboard so that he can place his fingers on the tape so he is more accurate because he can’t hear the pitch as well. He will play an open “A” string and say, “This note is really annoying to me.’ I say, ‘Why is it annoying? Is it a certain frequency that is not matching up with your hearing aid?’ So we would work around it to another note that doesn’t vibrate as loud. Alternate fingering. I find this fascinating.”
“I know we are here for something, and it’s not to make money. We all have an inherent creative side and we have to learn how to use it. Art is a way.”
Gabe goes back to his teaching. And I stand outside looking in, watching him gently position the hands of the student.
Teaching as art.
Now . . . maybe that python is in the next room over.