Each morning, Amanda Preslar-Bantly wakes up, brews coffee and prepares for the trek to work, all 10 steps of it. The 30-year-old singer and pianist turned her backyard apartment into a music studio--equipped with two private lesson rooms, a mini recording studio and bathroom--a year and a half ago.
She slapped bright paint colors on the walls, set up instruments and mics, and opened the door to the newly remodeled Preslar Music School, which currently has seven teachers who specialize in piano, voice, drums, guitar and recording instruction. The company serves mostly children but is open to all ages. "It depends on the attention span," Preslar-Bantly said, adding that she once taught a 3-year-old student who took 10-minute lessons.
The company began in 1999 as a favor for a friend. A student at Oral Roberts University, Preslar-Bantly was asked by a friend to teach piano lessons to her three children. Working on a degree in music composition, she saw the lessons as a way to make some extra money while in school. "I come from a long line of educators. My mother was an educator, her mother was an educator. It's in my blood," Preslar-Bantly said.
She and her two sisters grew up in Hattiesburg, Miss. They frequently graced the stage of their gospel church, which served as the foundation for the young singing trio. In 1995, the family moved to Tulsa.
At ORU, Preslar-Bantly enjoyed the references and word-of-mouth connections that established her growing clientele. "I got to the point where I didn't have to hold down a part-time job and teach," she said.
About four years later, a friend from college asked if Preslar-Bantly wanted to help her one day a week at her own music company, Midtown Music School. "We teamed up a bit and I helped teach piano," Preslar-Bantly said. "And when she moved to San Francisco, I was able to merge because her students needed a place to go."
With about 50 students, she started Preslar Music School, operating the business out of her own home; and for nine years, her clientele has grown slowly to just more than 100 timeslots. "And we've got lots of room to grow," she noted.
With her lessons, Preslar-Bantly tries to recreate opportunities for her students based on her experiences growing up. She said that she can use her business to show her students that musicians don't have to be broke or labeled as "starving artists." "I knew I wasn't going to be that way," Preslar-Bantly said, wishing the same for her kids. "I like to think, what is it that I gained throughout my years in education and the exposure I've received that I can re-instill into my students?"
The teachers at Preslar Music Company may not define the typical image of a child's music teacher.
They aren't stern, dry and humorless. They are young, hip and relatable, according to Preslar-Bantly. "I want the teachers to be approachable, someone they can look up to as a mentor and friend," she said. The school uses traditional styles of teaching, yet combines them with a more contemporary approach. At Preslar Music, the students have annual performances, showcases and two recitals a year, which Preslar-Bantly said they strive to make "real cutting-edge and cool."
"We are not bound to one form of teaching. We try to feel out everybody's personalities and go with what they need and how musical will benefit them," she said. "We try to be a little different than what you would expect from music school."
"Our students are not going to become concert pianists here," she said. "At Preslar, it's a good, well-rounded place to come. We want to produce music lovers and let them grow in their own way."
Beyond teaching the kids how to set goals and accomplish them, Preslar-Bantly and her fellow instructors want to prepare their students for real-life situations. One way the school practices this is through its annual showcase at Tulsa's Mayfest, which starts this weekend. On Sunday, May 17, several students from Preslar Music will perform on the Williams Green from 3-4pm. For the kids, it's a nerve-racking experience being onstage in front of a constantly moving audience. Preslar-Bantly loves it for that reason, and, of course, for the exposure it gives the school. The show demands the performers focus on their music, ignoring the constant distractions from the crowd. "It teaches them at a young age that not everybody is going to sit still and listen," Preslar-Bantly said. "This is real-life, and Mayfest forces them to become accustomed to that at an early age."
Similar to what coaches may deal with in sports, one of Preslar-Bantly's challenges is dealing with the parents and making sure they are encouraging to their kids. She emphasizes to parents that they can use these recitals and showcases as ways to help their kids be comfortable onstage, noting the self-esteem and confidence boost students get from the experience.
Kids who relish the spotlight at an early age would no doubt enjoy the summer band camps that Preslar Music offers. Kids can trade the cooking spoon for a real microphone, the pots and pans for an actual drum set, and the tennis racket for a guitar. Preslar Music started the summer band camps last year, offering three two-week long sessions. The teachers picked the top students from each instrument category (piano, guitar, vocal and drums) and let them use the in-house studio facilities to create a three-song demo. After the recording process, the "bands" performed at a coffee house, where they even made some money from the tip jar at the front of the stage. It was as about as close as they could get to being studio musicians.
They plan to do the same this summer. For two weeks, two hours a day, the kids can pick a song--"something that is cool to them," Preslar-Bantly said--and learn as a group, rehearse as a group, and then record as a group. "These are like 10-year-olds coming together and having a three-song demo that they put together from the bottom up." The instructors want to show the kids that they can be successful musicians and if they work hard enough, they will be able to support themselves.
Preslar-Bantly said one of her proudest moments as an instructor was when a student said she wanted to be her when she grew up. Preslar-Bantly asked her why and the girl said, "Because you are a teacher. I want to teach just like you." "That's when I realized how much we are really impacting them," Preslar-Bantly said.
The teachers see other degrees of success in their students, most often hearing the news that Preslar Music students have formed bands at their schools, with their friends, or with the same group of kids with whom they attended band camp. "They're still practicing!" Preslar-Bantly boasted. "They are becoming a band and working hard to arrange songs on their own!"
If the name "Amanda Preslar" rang a bell about 1,000 words ago, it's likely because her name appears in this paper almost weekly, or because she's onstage three weekends a month at one of Tulsa's most lively restaurants, The Full Moon Café, 1525 E. 15th St. Preslar-Bantly sings and plays the piano with Tom Basler during Full Moon's weekend dueling piano shows. She noted that when teaching, she's a better piano teacher, but when performing, she loves to sing. "I love having an accompanist. I love having a band behind me. I love being able to move around and not be stationary," Preslar-Bantly said. "I love the spontaneity of it. You just never know because it's a request-generated show."
It seems as though the element of surprise is Preslar's favorite part of what she does at both the music school and Full Moon. From the smile beaming from her face while discussing the school, its future and its students, it is clear that Preslar-Bantly would love her work even if she was broke or starving, but she acknowledges that the company is doing really well.
And even though she was quick to offer a tour of the studio out back, Preslar-Bantly noted that they are interested in relocating to a larger facility in the midtown area.
For now, the Suburbans line up along the curbside, the kids running up and down the driveway, coming and going from their lessons, while Preslar-Bantly sits comfortably in her home where she always hears music--after all, "with kids, there is never a dull moment."
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