When Gretchen Sterling Buckingham first began teaching music in 2009, she drove to people’s homes to give them lessons. She later taught students in her home before she and her husband Hansel opened their studio, Sterling Conservatory of Music, in Fairfax City.
Hansel had been in the military; and when he left, he used his retirement money to buy the musical instruments and equipment they’d need for their new venture at 10341-B Democracy Lane. Their faculty members are Grammy-winning, international performers with Carnegie Hall experience. And they now have more than 100 students – mainly adults – although the overall age range is 4-80.
“We have lots of retirees and government workers,” said Hansel. “And we’re excited that our business is growing.” In fact, it’s doing so well that the Buckinghams have rebranded its name to Fairfax Conservatory of Music and expanded their studio downstairs into 10333-B Democracy Lane – so Fairfax Conservatory of Music occupies both floors of the building.
At the recent ribbon cutting celebrating their expansion, Fairfax Mayor Catherine Read told the couple, “We’re delighted to have you here. I’m amazed that you have mostly adult students – that gives people hope that you can do a government job during the day and play music at night.”
“Music feeds your soul,” she continued. “We hope you have a wonderful experience here and find a warm welcome. Thank you so much for choosing Fairfax City. I’m impressed with how you’ve grown your business and the caliber of teachers you’re attracting.”
Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce Chairman Doug Church called the new studio space “magnificent.” And Tess Rollins, executive director of the Old Town Fairfax Business Assn., said she was a former vocalist and cellist.
“Music speaks to everybody and connects the community together, and that’s what I love,” she said. “And we hope we can connect and collaborate with you and the other businesses here.”
“It’s been a long journey for us, and we’re grateful for all the City has done for us,” said Gretchen. “We hired high-quality instructors and wanted to create a tranquil space for people to learn and to tap into that other side of themselves.”
“We’re different from most studios because we offer a more informal environment,” added Hansel. “We created a relaxing atmosphere by having rooms with chimneys, fireplaces, couches and antiques. Our students feel like they’re in someone’s house because we wanted our studio to be fun. We’re here for people who love music; we want to enrich them as artists.”
Fairfax Conservatory of Music doesn’t currently offer brass or woodwind instruments, but it does teach piano, violin/viola, guitar, vocals, performing arts and music production. There are five grand pianos, including a concert grand Steinway and a semi-concert grand, and even an antique harpsichord.
The studio provides artistic, personalized lessons to students of all levels of experience and musical backgrounds, with an emphasis on creative learning and technique. And it also has a music lab/vocal booth.
“All our teachers are still active performers, so they stay on top of their game,” said Hansel. “And we integrate technology, so we’re not just another place to learn music. For example, we have an interactive Woojer-brand vest to assist students with tempo. When they wear it, they can feel the beat of the music.
“We partnered with a huge recording studio, Shuman Studios, where our students can record, if they want. And I also teach students how to publicize themselves and move up in the music industry.” In addition, Fairfax Conservatory of Music holds workshops, enrichment courses and summer camps.
“Our students make friends with people they might not have met, otherwise,” said Gretchen. “They network with others to create a community that interacts with and feeds off of each other.”
And besides the music lessons, said Hansel, “We offer adult soirees in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. Students can perform or not, and then we talk about their performances and the composers whose pieces they played. We also hold recitals in January and June and focus on each student’s artistic development.”
He said the instructors demonstrate various styles of teaching and discuss with the students which style and teacher is best for each of them. “We appeal to their senses, as well,” said Hansel. “For example, we could turn on a blue accent light to remind a student of a particular part of a song they’re trying to learn. Gretchen also uses scents. The more we can stimulate the students’ senses, the more they can retain the music.”
After the ribbon cutting, attendees toured the studio and were treated to vocal and piano performances by Gretchen and another teacher. Mayor Read then told the Buckinghams, “It looks and feels like a music conservatory in here. It’s a unique business and a safe space to learn where you build your students’ confidence and musical abilities.”
Students may play any genre of music they desire and may book lessons, seven days a week, from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. For more information, go to www.scmusicarts.com/. To inquire about lessons, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 571-659-1954.