|Now that Bonnaroo is over, the time has come to focus on Johnnaroo.
Children perform in August 2011 during Johnnaroo in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (File photo)
That’s right, folks. Pack up your folding chairs, don your dancin’ shoes and head to The Avenue Murfreesboro to hear some of the area’s best – and youngest – musicians strum, drum and sing their hearts out.
Now in its fourth year, Johnnaroo has grown from a concert in Johnny Guitar’s parking lot to a grandiose event at The Avenue. The day-long showcase will kick off Saturday, Aug. 11, at 11 a.m. in the area between Victoria’s Secret and Hollister.
Local residents Terri and Bob Fitzgerald are in the music business – the making-sure-children-learn-to-play-music business. In 2007, they opened Johnny Guitar’s just off Northwest Broad Street to offer music lessons, along with a retail shop. Earlier this year, they renamed the business Johnny Guitar’s Musical Institute, nixed a majority of the retail goods and moved inside Leslie Hall Dance Studio, located directly behind their original location.
With all of the changes, Terri Fitzgerald said they almost canceled Johnnaroo this year. But the show must go on, and it will.
“We’re in it for the lessons – that’s what we do and what we specialize in,” Bob Fitzgerald says. “We use Johnnaroo as a means to give our students the experience of playing in a band and performing live on stage.”
He explained how live performances, whether the bi-weekly shows at 3 Brothers Deli & Brewhouse or Johnnaroo, are one of the lesson specialties provided.
“It also teaches kids to play with other musicians,” Terri Fitzgerald said.
This year’s Johnnaroo crew is a 50/50 mixture of new and veteran students ranging in ages from 6 to 18. There’s even an all-girl band. All of the students will wear tie-dye shirts made prior to the performance to coincide with the 1960s theme.
Each of the four bands has been practicing for some six weeks. They’re a bundle of nerves until the day of the performance, when “they just come together.”
“The kids are so nervous and so excited, and when they get on stage, they can’t wait to do it all over again,” Terri Fitzgerald recalls. “That’s what we do it for; that’s why we do it.”
It’s hard to ignore the couple’s enthusiasm about these young musicians. They get just as excited as the kids do.
Terri Fitzgerald recalls the beginnings of Johnnaroo as something fun to do in the parking lot of the store.
“People came from everywhere – a couple hundred people,” she said. “We started as ‘fun’ and now The Avenue is already confirming us for next year. It’s taken on a life of its own.”
The benefit of music lessons on adolescents continues to be explored and supported.
A recent article published on Forbes.com, highlights a Canadian study that “lends support to the idea that musical training may do more for kids than simply teach them their scales--it exercises parts of the brain useful in mathematics, spatial intelligence and other intellectual pursuits. “
"With music lessons, because there are so many different facets involved – such as memorizing, expressing emotion, learning about musical interval and chords – the multidimensional nature of the experience may be motivating the [IQ] effect," said study author E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga.
Bob Fitzgerald couldn’t agree more, saying that understanding music is about more than playing notes and songs.
“We like to teach them the theory behind music as much or more than how to play a song,” he explained.
“Lately, a lot of school systems have been shedding themselves of their music programs – not all, but it’s definitely a trend. But music is an important tool for youngsters to decide if they like it. Not all youngsters will be good, but some of those not being offered could be.”
Terri Fitzgerald also emphasized the “fun” aspect of lessons.
“We hope we’re teaching them that it’s fun and they find it interesting,” she says. “We still have kids who have been with us from the beginning. They love doing it. We say, ‘Don’t practice; just go play your guitar.’”
In addition to the intellectual aspects of music lessons, she explained how playing in a band also builds young students’ social skills, maturity levels and friendships.
“And they’re doing something besides sitting at home in front of the TV,” Terri Fitzgerald says. “They’re learning something they can take with them forever and ever.”
Seeing students’ excitement and sense of accomplishment was the real reason the couple couldn’t close Johnny Guitar’s.
“None of our plans would have been possible without Leslie Hall Dance Studio providing us the opportunity to continue our program at their location,” Bob Fitzgerald said. “We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their hospitality and generosity.”
Through all the changes, students and their parents have really believed in what Johnny Guitar’s stands for and provides.
“That means so much to us,” Terri Fitzgerald said. “Johnny Guitar’s wasn’t just the building. Johnny Guitar’s is us: it’s the people, it’s the music, not the building.”