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    •    University of Akron

Spotlight on Alumni: Kurt Reed

When I heard that University of Akron guitar alumnus, Kurt Reed, had won the Akron Area Arts Alliance Award for music, I was absolutely thrilled. This is a highly coveted award, given out once each year, with categories in each area of the arts, with only one in music. Akron has plenty of big arts organizations, schools, and successful performing artists and ensembles. For the award to go to Kurt was a really exciting development. 

I started teaching Kurt when he was still in junior high school; his family lived close enough to Oberlin that he would come there after school for lessons. He was precocious from the start. Always a go-getter with a winning optomistic view of life, he embraced challenges from the beginning. While a UA student, he took a leadership role in the guitar club, and became the first undergrad to give a full chamber music recital, for fun, in between his required solo programs. While his playing was refined enough to garner a coveted Stroud Competition prize, he decided to move in another direction upon graduation, and started his own school, instead. I'll let Kurt tell it:

"To say Stephen Aron had a profound impact on my life would be an understatement. I began studying the classical guitar with him at the age of 11 at Oberlin College. It was through his teaching style that I realized my passion for music and began to prepare for life as a musician. He used a regiment of technique and scale drills, combined with the application of fretboard harmony, music history, and regular performances to inspire and encourage me. Most importantly, Steve would frequently stop to focus on the sound, inviting me to listen and truly appreciate the tone and musicality of each piece. This approach compelled me to reach deeper, becoming a true "lover" of music. Luckily, I had extremely supportive parents who saw the value in these lessons and drove countless miles and hours for my weekly lessons.

When it came time to begin searching for colleges, I knew that I wanted to continue to study with Steve. Even after so many years together, Steve continued to push me to be better. I am so thankful that I attended the University of Akron. I was able to continue my focus on the classical guitar while also learning about other styles, including a year of jazz guitar lessons from Dean Newton.

I imagined myself ultimately traveling the world as a classical guitarist, but one day, Steve encouraged me to start teaching. 

Here is Kurt, as third-prize winner in the 2008 James Stroud Competition, along with Yuting Wu, 2nd, and Gary Stewart, 1st.

I didn't think I'd like teaching, but it has been the best career I could have imagined. While many of my students are interested in rock and folk music, my knowledge of the classical guitar has given me the ability to teach advanced students in all styles. It has even allowed me to pick up bass, ukulele and banjo. Slightly before graduation, I began a music school in partnership with a few fellow musicians from the University of Akron. Now, I'm the sole owner of two music schools in the Akron area, the Fairlawn and Hudson Schools of Music. I came to Akron somewhat by chance, but I have now chosen to make this community my home. Akron has great performing venues, museums and galleries, and is a supportive community for the arts. 

When Jam Session Music School began in 2007, we started with under 25 students. Given that the founders of the school were drummers and guitar players, most of the students were guitar and drum students! The school offered voice and piano when we first opened as well. We were located on the second floor of a shop in downtown Kent, with a very narrow set of stairs leading to our humble school. 

Kurt (third from left), with his (twin) brother Ivan and Ivan's wife, Sylvia, and their aunt and uncle, in front of Jam Sessions.

Jam Session was branded as a program/performance-based school. We focused on the "rock school" specifically, which became an immediate success. We had monthly rock showcases that allowed students and the bands we coached to have regular performance opportunities. We partnered with businesses all through Kent and eventually across Northeast Ohio to bring our students to the stage. We also hosted festival-style events, such as Battle Palooza and family fun days for our students. Multiple student bands successfully competed in the Tri-C High School Rock Off. All along, we were looking to expand into more traditional and classical instruments, but realized our branding was an obstacle. 

In 2011, the Fairlawn School of Music opened its doors. Fairlawn is the suburb immediately north of Akron. We picked a more traditional name with the hope of encouraging greater variety in the instruments offered and taught. This proved to be highly effective in attracting orchestral and band instruments. FSM began similarly to Jam Session, with a small number of students at the outset. We were able to host successful jazz programming while still maintaining the rock school under the new brand. Student bands were still sent to the High School Rock Off and found success, despite their not coming from a "rock and roll" school. After the success of Fairlawn School of Music, I realized it was time to leave behind Jam Session and transition to the new, more traditional brand. 

The spring of 2012 was full of meetings to determine the next step for Jam Session, which included finding a new location. We did an extensive study to determine the best place to move, and found that most students were coming from Stow, Silver Lake and Cuyahoga Falls. We realized that a move to Hudson would be more convenient and allow us greater opportunity to expand. Hudson is a lovely, storied community that sits about halfway between Akron and Cleveland. The Hudson School of Music opened in June of 2012. The grand opening celebration included a ribbon cutting with the Mayor of Hudson, Hudson City Council members, and members of the press. At this point, the original partnership dissolved and the schools began operating under my sole ownership, as Reed Schools of Music, LLC. 

Hudson School of Music Grand Opening, with Kurt next to the mayor cutting the ribbon, and faculty all around.

Our main focus area for 2013 became community involvement. To serve our communities in the best way possible, we needed to be more involved. I joined the Fairlawn Chamber of Commerce, which has been a fantastic experience. The school also participated in events held by the Hudson Chamber of Commerce, including the Hudson Community Expo. Our schools hosted a Harvest for Hunger Campaign for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. We had a food drive at the school and also hosted a "Rock for a Good Cause" concert, where our students performed and raised $700 for the Foodbank. Also part of this campaign, a young student competed in the Foodbank's "Virtual Idol" competition and received the "Young Harvester" award from the Foodbank. We hosted high school interns at our school, allowing them to spend a month working on special projects and shadowing our teachers. They are now both music majors at Otterbein University. 

Kurt with High School interns and staff.

Finally, we partnered with the Shaw Jewish Community Center to host a Rock Band summer camp, which resulted in exposure for the school and a relationship with a great community resource. Aside from the above special projects, we continued to donate to school fundraisers, host our regular recitals and rock showcases and provide sound for charity events, such as Relay for Life, the Akron Dog Park, the Highland Square Porch Rokr Festival and the GriefCare Place. 

At our highest point, Jam Session Music School had 11 teachers and about 90 students. Today, the Fairlawn and Hudson Schools of Music boast nearly 25 teachers and over 250 students. We are expanding each day and have had great success in attracting a traditional student base while staying true to our roots as a rock performance based school. 

Recently, I was recognized with the Outstanding Artist in Music award from the Akron Area Arts Alliance. I received this award in recognition of the outreach work of the schools and our community involvement. While at the ceremony, I was able to meet many "movers and shakers" in the Akron area, while also reconnecting with so many wonderful people from the University of Akron. As one person said to me the night of the event: "For some people, this night represents the end of a career. For others, this is their coming out party. This is your party!" I realized that this was the culmination of years of work, and in some way recognition that the schools, and perhaps I, have finally made it."

Kurt receiving Arts Alliance Award, October, 2013

Congratulations Kurt!! You earned it!!!!

Marco Sartor at U Akron

Francis Biggi Lute Master Class at Oberlin