A government-certified educational institute, Ontario Conservatory of Music has fostered the musicians of tomorrow since 1939, when tomorrow had just been invented. Its teachers believe that playing music acts as a gateway—to building character, boosting confidence, and improving self-discipline. The school helps students of all ages explore those benefits through lessons in instruments ranging from drums and guitar to piano, voice, and violin. Band programs get even beginning students working together and performing in front of live audiences, giving them a space to hone their chops outside their basement, where mole people might hear them through the walls and steal their songs.
Dustin Ballinger knows guitars. With a degree in applied music and jazz guitar, extensive experience recording music with local musicians, and 15 years of performing under his proverbial belt, Ballinger approaches the instrument with ease and familiarity. “I have always believed that music lessons of any kind should be fun and friendly as well as challenging,” he says. He backs up his belief by leading his roster of classes with an encouraging and dedicated approach. Lessons unfold in a cozy, homey studio space complete with couches, rustic wooden accents, and windows that look out onto sparrows trained to sing the guitar parts from “Free Bird."
Joe Pinnavaia's students refer to him as a Rosetta stone, encapsulating a wealth of musical knowledge that he translates into easy-to-follow instructions. Joe opts for personal, one-on-one sessions that break down the bad habits and barriers that can keep fledgling axe-wielders from meeting their goals. Classes emphasize speed, coordination, and confidence as students learn to play complicated licks or chord structures with less effort. Once a frustrated student himself, Joe knows that the only way to learn is from a real person and not online videos or the ghost of Muddy Waters that keeps whispering encouragements when you're in the shower.
With an enormous inventory of instruments, a dependable technician, and friendly instructors, The Guitar Factory is the kind of store that performers come to count on over the course of their musical evolution. Here, musicians can browse from simple-starter electric guitars from Ibanez to high-end acoustics from Martin. Keyboards, percussion, amps, basses, and other gear are also available. When wear and tear strikes, the shop’s in-house repairman, Charles J. Quagliana, can nurse instruments back to functionality. Charles has honed his handiwork by working for superstars such as Mary J. Blige, Prince, The Beach Boys, and the Mos Eisley Cantina band.
In the studio’s 10 air-conditioned lesson rooms, a team of teachers with more than 30 years’ experience teach guitar, drums, bass, keyboard, and other instruments. Joe Shanahan, who teaches bass, guitar, vocal, keyboards, and drums, was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame with his band, Only Humen, and guitarist/singer/teacher Tommy Z has performed for the U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instructors tailor each lesson to student’s individual needs; with a current student pool ranging from ages 4 to 70, instructors are comfortable working with a wide range of skill sets.
The instructors at Freedom School of the Arts don’t teach theatrical dogma. Instead of constraining their pupils with “must do” techniques, they encourage students to explore their own process and discover on-stage confidence through a constantly changing curriculum. The school’s acting and improv classes cover basic performance skills that ease self-doubts as well as read-through, blocking, and agreement techniques that help them feel comfortable in any situation, from shows to auditions to parent-teacher conferences. Not just for adults, the school hosts youth acting classes that help kids explore their imagination and creativity.