www.tampafineartsacademy.com | 813-463-8968
May 2020 From Engineer to Music School Entrepreneur Larry Bigel on the ‘Origin’ Story of Tampa Fine Arts Academy
When I taught kids, I cared about teaching strong basics so they could easily read and pick up new music and enjoy the music they created. It wasn’t about fitting into a particular music education mold. The kids created their own mold, like every musician creates their own goals on their journey. So, for a couple years, I was doing great teaching guitar. Then, I lost my engineering job at the firm back in 2002. In a way, it was well-timed (although it didn’t feel like that back then!). I guess everything happens for a reason. It gave me the opportunity to chase my own dreams: build a career teaching and playing music and start a family with my wife, Monica, in Florida closer to extended family members. So, in March of 2004, we moved out to Florida. At first, I went to people’s homes and taught private lessons there. But I wanted to open a place where I could offer all kinds of instruments for band or orchestra and teach students of all ages. We found a retail location in June 2005. That was a crazy time. Being an engineer didn’t entirely prepare me for being a business owner, and I needed all the help I could get. Monica was eight months pregnant with our first child while we were installing slat wall in our showroom. She helped so much. Whether greeting students, handling payments and appointments, or taking on many more admin duties, she was absolutely key to getting our business on its feet. Eventually, we grew to a point where we could hire more teachers and staff. Now, we have over 600 students, and sometimes, I can’t believe how far we’ve come. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past 15 years is you never know what to expect. Every student brings something fresh to our academy: their energy, perspective, and personality. I know how fulfilling music can be, as it enriches each of these qualities in our lives. I want our students to remember that music is a lifelong friend. It will stay long after their education here. Thank you for reading our first newsletter! I look forward to sharing more about myself and our school with you every month. Have a wonderful April, #TFAAFAM. 1 -Larry Bigel
It might be hard to believe, but I didn’t always think I’d run a music school. I used to help build helicopters in Connecticut — engineering was actually the start of my professional career. I have always been fascinated with cars, and my dad was an engineer, so I thought I’d follow his footsteps. After getting an engineering degree, I worked in that field for 12 years; from consulting to working in huge corporate firms, it’s fair to say I explored what it had to offer me. But I was always passionate about music. I began with learning trumpet in elementary school, then keyboard in high school. When I graduated high school, one of my friends had a guitar, but he always wanted to play piano. There was something about his guitar that intrigued me. I’m not sure what. Maybe it was the brand name “Stella.” Maybe it was the color. Whatever it was, I Even while I was working as an engineer, I spent every spare waking moment playing guitar. I’d get home from work at 5 p.m. and play the classic rock CDs of Led Zeppelin, Guns & Roses, and Rush until 10 p.m. Later on, I started gravitating toward acoustic guitar, and to this day, I love listening to and playing James Taylor, the Eagles, and Jim Croce. While working in California, I saw a flyer: “Music Teachers Needed.” So I started teaching guitar outside of my full-time engineering job. I taught up to 50 kids each week. What I’ve come to realize over several years of observation is the type of music lessons that people or places tend to offer generally fall into two different molds: traditional and rock. You either gain your reading basics through classical music, or you learn popular songs relying on your ear. But that’s never what music education really meant to me. For me, music has always been an old reliable friend. No matter how depressed or apathetic I got, I could pick up my guitar and feel l reignited to take on the world again. Playing music transports you somewhere else and can make you feel incredibly alive. Learning music offered a whole new dimension to my life. just wanted it. So I traded my keyboard for his guitar. And once I picked up a guitar, I never put it down.
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