Since 2006, Excel Music in the Cory Lake Isles Professional Center on Cross Creek Blvd. has been teaching students of all ages to sing and play a wide variety of instruments with some of the area’s top teachers. As your kids getting out of school for the summer, it may be the perfect time to bring them to Excel Music to try new musical endeavors.
John and Sheri Thrasher are the husband-and-wife team who own the school.
“We’ve helped thousands of students of all ages reach their musical goals while enjoying the journey,” says John. “We like to say Excel is both the place you start and the place you stay.”
Excel Music has 20 teachers on staff and all are either university trained (many with Master of Music degrees) or they have at least 10 years of study and performing experience. The faculty teaches voice and nearly every traditional musical instrument, including piano, guitar, drums, violin and so many more.
“There’s a lot of excellent science out there that shows the benefit of a broad education that includes arts and music,” John says, adding that Excel provides a variety of opportunities for people of all ages to experience and connect with music.
Beyond Just Lessons
Excel Music offers the New Tampa Choir, a singing group for kids ages 5-12, and no experience is necessary to participate. It’s currently on hiatus for the summer, but will start back in September.
“It’s a learning experience, and it’s fun,” John says. “We want to give students a venue to sing songs they know, and some they don’t. In addition to traditional choir music, we do Broadway songs, Disney songs and more. We are always looking for more opportunities for this group to perform.”
Excel’s choir is for those who aren’t interested in solo performance, although the choir will offer opportunities for small group instruction.
John explains, “This is not a huge choir where no one even knows each other’s name.” He adds that the choir will provide a way for New Tampa kids to meet new people and get involved in the music school.
The school also will start up its Excel Rock Band again this fall, but students can apply to participate at any time.
“We’ve done a rock band a couple of times over the years, and its success depends upon the right mix of students,” John explains. “We make sure to group students by age, skill level and instrumentation.”
Excel Music offers a preschool music class for ages 18 months to four years, enjoyed by both kids and parents. The class lasts 45 minutes, once a week, for 10-12 weeks.
“It’s a great way to engage with both the parent and the child,” John explains. “The smiles on the faces of the parents are often as big as the ones on their children.”
John adds that the classes help parents learn ways to engage musically with their preschoolers at home. “This is a participatory class in which we teach parents how to bring music into their kids’ lives,” he says, “especially if they’re not musicians.”
The school’s students have the opportunity to take part in recitals twice a year, but John says these performances are always optional and low-pressure. “Recitals are part of what we do,” John says. “But, we aren’t a performance-driven studio.”
Adult Training, Too
While many of Excel Music’s students are kids, the opportunity to learn to sing or play an instrument is certainly not limited.
“A lot of adults come in for lessons, too,” says John. “We get retired people who say they’ve wanted to play their whole lives, and now they’re finally going to do it.” He says one of his favorite stories was about teaching an 86-year-old man how to play the trumpet.
Pete Laches is quite a bit younger than that, but he also is one of the school’s adult students. Pete says he has been taking guitar lessons at Excel since his daughters were in middle school. One is now in college and one just graduated from college.
“They started taking lessons right after we moved here, so they were in third or fourth grade,” he explains. “Rachel played the cello and piano, and Elizabeth played viola and guitar.”
He says that while his daughters no longer play their instruments, the investment he made in their lessons was well worth it.
“It’s a well-run place,” Pete says. “The instructors are good, and it seems to be a pretty stable staff. I like that they can teach every instrument, so your kid never feels stuck if they try something and hate it.”
Pete adds that, as an Arbor Greene resident, the location can’t be beat. It’s “right around the corner” — a huge convenience when his girls were taking lessons, and now for him. “I’m trapped in an office 40 hours a week, so playing guitar is an outlet for me,” Pete says. “It was a bucket list item and it’s a mental challenge, using a part of my brain that I usually don’t.”
About The Owners
John explains that he and Sheri originally opened Excel Music with the dream of providing the opportunity for young people to be trained for the kinds of careers and lives they once experienced themselves.
“We both had long careers in music, and were professional musicians who were able to make a living performing,” John says, adding that he was the drummer for country singer Mickey Gilley for many years, giving him the opportunity to perform on TV, at the White House and for people all over the world.
In the 1990s, John and Sheri had success together with a band of their own in Japan called Tz, where he says they sold tens of thousands of CDs. They also found themselves immersed in a culture that revered teachers, which led them to start thinking about passing on the knowledge and experience they had gained to the next generation.
“We met tremendous people, saw great places, and made a living,” John says. “We started thinking, ‘What if some of the kids who come through our school can experience what we’ve experienced?’”
They landed in New Tampa, where they had relatives, and have been building their school ever since. With nine years now under their belts, some of John and Sheri’s long-term students are now growing up and moving on.
“We’re seeing many students who have come through our school go on to college, and some are majoring in music,” John says. “This dream we had is starting to come true.”
John explains, however, that he and Sheri recognize that the vast majority of their students will not go on to have professional music careers.
“Our teachers are good enough for that type of student, but most of our students will go on to have another career such as a doctor or lawyer or something else,” he explains. “We hope that when they go to a concert or experience music, they will appreciate it on a different level, because they truly understand the challenge of playing music, and the dedication and skill of the performers presenting the music to them.”
For the past four years, Excel Music has been a business partner at Hunter’s Green, Clark, and Pride elementary schools. Students who attend those schools can enroll at Excel Music with no registration fee, which is a value of up to $45.
Excel Music is located at 10353 Cross Creek Blvd., Suite I. It is open Monday- Thursday, 2 p.m.-9 p.m., 2 p.m.-7 p.m. on Friday, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday. Call (813) 991-1177 for more info or to schedule lessons.