On Business: High Strung School of Music:
Published: Feb 19, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 19, 2013 08:58 PM
High Strung Violins and Guitars doesn’t struggle to sell ukuleles.
More people buy the humble little instruments every year, and they make up a big part of the shop’s sales. Musicians Jake Shimabukuro, Jack Johnson and Eddie Vedder, among others, have helped to make them more popular in the last decade, and you can hear the instrument in many soundtracks and advertisements.
Until recently, High Strung’s problem was not being able to teach aspiring players of ukuleles and other string instruments who kept asking about music lessons.
So in January, owners Lee Raymond, 56, and Christine Spiak, 44, added High Strung School of Music to their business. The building, which they are renting, is at 1805 W. Markham St. The retail location remains at 1116 Broad St.
“People want workshops and lessons. It just became obvious this was the next step,” Raymond said. Mostly customers have enrolled at the school so far, ranging from a 4-year-old banjo ukulele player to an elderly man plucking the mandolin.
Six teachers, each an expert in a particular instrument, are using studio spaces for individual lessons. The teachers are contractors who receive a percentage of lesson revenues.
This summer, group classes will begin, and this probably will be of particular interest to the adult beginners that the school will serve, Spiak said, because learning an instrument at that stage in life can be intimidating.
“There’s that safety in numbers thing,” she said.
The school is designed to be part of the Durham music scene and will complement the business’ ukulele, Old Time and Irish learning jams.
“We’re not looking to produce the next great soloist,” Raymond said. “The thrust of our business is a community music school.”
As students become comfortable with scales, chords and other basics of playing without sheet music, they can join in the jams if they want.
“The next step is to hang out at someone’s house for a potluck and be able to play with whichever musician is passing through town,” Raymond said.
A big chunk of High Strung’s business already comes from renting about 250 instruments a year to Durham Public Schools students.
Students will have many stringed instruments from which to choose, including the viola, cello, bass, banjo and mandolin.
In March the retail shop will move temporarily into the downstairs space of the school, which could be a big boost.
“It doesn’t hurt when you’re handing someone a rental instrument to be able to say ‘Are you interested in lessons? There are teachers upstairs,’” Raymond said.
In the fall, the retail shop will move to a building within walking distance.
The owners hope to enroll 200 students by the end of the year.
“We’ve been ripe for years for this,” Spiak said.